How Odd & Uneven, Kejri!

By Tukoji R Pandit

parking-story-fb_647_123115112921_010116083910The Aam Admi Party justifies its name with acts that it thinks endear it to the ‘aam admi’ (common man). That is fine but there is a slight problem. Till it conquers a new territory, the party will remain a Delhi phenomenon and it has to take into account the interests of all. Many residents of the national capital may not pass the Marxist test of defining the ‘common man’ but, nevertheless, they have to be counted as part of the majority population of the less privileged lot in an urban sprawl that does have a crowd of the rich and the privileged.

It is quite in tune with the character of the city that some among the privileged class—powerful politicians—have jumped in the fray to derive political mileage by pretending to speak on behalf of the suffering public. A ruling party member, ever looking for new means to grab the headlines, obviously invited the media to witness and record his act of defiance—by paying the Rs 2000 fine for not observing the ‘odd-even’ rule.

Does this politician advocate defiance of the rules and the law? What prevented him from leading a protest march and building public opinion to put across his point against the ‘odd-even’ formula? It is all so hypocritical. Take the argument that car owners should hire cabs for their travel on the days they cannot use their vehicle because of the car rationing system.

Cab fares are not cheap and, worse, there seems to be no check on arbitrary and illegal rise in fares, as was experienced in the second round of the ‘odd-even’ rule. The auto-rickshaw is mistakenly described as the common man’s taxi. The auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi are a law onto themselves and it has become an even more serious problem because of the patronage they receive from Kejriwal and his party. The question is does anyone buy a car to add to his conveyance expenses?

What some politicians opposing the government do not understand is that ‘photo ops’ will not solve any of the problems faced by the people during the car rationing days. But what is the priority of the Delhi government: Reduce congestion on the roads or control air pollution. Or, is it both. But that can’t be because many reports suggest that lesser cars in Delhi did not lead to the desired level of air pollution control.

There are in Delhi what the Aam Admi Party perhaps sees as sinful capitalists who own cars—fleets of luxury cars. But the ‘lesser’ car owners in Delhi, who outnumber them and have been made to bear the brunt of the ‘odd-even’ car rationing rule, cannot be dismissed as sinful dregs undeserving of any consideration.

These ‘lesser’ people struggled to save and borrow money to buy a car for their convenience because they could not rely on the public transport system—even after the introduction of the Metro. Buying a second car, as so casually advised by the Delhi government, is not easy for the ‘aam’ car owner. The ‘aam’ car owners have to travel every day to earn their livelihood or meet emergencies which could be either of medical or social nature. Arvind Kejriwal and his team do not seem to have any idea of what hardships this section of the citizens has to face when the ‘odd-even’ formula is introduced.

It comes as no relief for this section of the ‘aam admi’ to hear that restrictions on the movement of cars will be made a permanent feature in the city which had placed unprecedented trust in Kejriwal’s party by electing 67of its members in the 70-member Delhi assembly not very long ago.

The ‘odd-even’ formula is being applied in a city where a lot of people have to travel to or from nearby town in UP and Haryana where this rule does not apply. Gurgaon (Gurugram) and Noida may be connected by the Metro but these are sprawling cities with a public transport that is much poorer than Delhi’s.

Consider the plight of those who have to visit Delhi from other states or travel out of Delhi for whatever reason. Can a family coming from, for instance, from Jaipur to visit their children or relatives in Delhi possibly leave the car at the border and hire—if available–a cab for further journey into Delhi?

Does it make any sense for a man or a family in Delhi to travel to another state in a cab paying an exorbitant fare? Mind you, there could be a case of medical emergency. And what if Delhi is not your destination but your long distance travel requires you to pass through Delhi? Do you leave your car in your home and pay through the nose for your journey?

After suffering two rounds of the ‘odd-even’ experiment, the only feature that can be described as praiseworthy is the reduction in the volume of traffic on Delhi roads. This is the basis on which the AAP claims that its ‘odd-even’ rule has been a ‘hit’ in the city.

Make no mistake. For the Delhi citizens the sight of lesser cars on the roads has been indeed a welcome feature. But it has come at a price, literally so for many. It has exposed how callous and indifferent the Kejriwal government has become to the voice of the ‘aam admi’.

The rulers of the city glibly ask people to use public transport while accepting its gross inadequacies. Critics are sought to be silenced by talking about more buses that ply on the roads during the ‘odd-even’ fortnight.

Kejriwal or one of his ministers, who travel in big SUVs bought with the taxpayers’ money, should one day travel incognito and without previous announcement in Delhi buses to know what a torturous experience it can be. They will discover the ‘joys’ of travelling in overcrowded buses which do not run on schedules. Clearly, there is a great shortage of buses in the city. Augmenting their strength by hiring them from the private sector is hardly the solution.

The suggestion that car owners can form a pool for traveling from their homes to their place of work and back has only a limited utility. Not everyone in your neighbourhood travels to the same part of the city as you and it is not certain that all of them have the same working hours. And, what makes it sure that every car owner is so sociable that he or she will gladly ask neighbours to share a ride with him or her.

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The Koh-i-noor Blues

By TUSHAR CHARAN

The Koh-i-Noor in the front cross of Queen Mary's Crown

The Koh-i-Noor in the front cross of Queen Mary’s Crown

An enviable quality of the Modi government is its capacity to do flip flops without in the least feeling embarrassed—and, of course, never even thinking of accepting that it made a mistake. It is even more enviable that saying sorry is not in its dictionary. Sometimes a U-turn can come within 24 hours. Consider how the government shifted gears in presenting its claim over Koh-i-Noor, said to be the largest diamond in the world that has been a part of Britain’s ‘crown jewels’ for over 150 years.

One day the solicitor general ruled out the chance of India pressing for its return from Britain because, as he told the Supreme Court, it was a ‘gift’ from an Indian prince to the British in mid-19th century. A voluntary act; no coercion. The next day, the government contradicted its own solicitor general and informed the court that all efforts would be made to bring it back to India.

As if to divert attention from the faux pas that it had made in taking diametrically opposite stands, the government also took pot shots at the previous governments, going back to Jawaharlal Nehru. Was that statement made to show that the Modi government was doing something that Indian governments from the days of Nehru had never done—fighting for the return of an Indian artifact forcibly taken away by the foreign ruler? That way at least the legend of Modi, the Superman alive can be kept alive.

It will not require a great effort to recall that quite recently a private citizen, not the government of India, did manage to bring back something of high emotional value to many in the country—the Sword of Tipu Sultan. The sword was bought during an auction in the UK by a man called Vijay Mallaya. Yes, the same Mallaya who is now being called a ‘fugitive’ living in the same country. It will be an ‘anti-national’ act to expect the Modi government to repeat a feat performed by a ‘fugitive’!

A government that has made restoring Indian ‘pride’ and ‘cultural values’ its full-time preoccupation has to show results at every step so that its boast is seen as substance. The ‘nationalist’ rhetoric will have us believe that only by restoring the past glory can India return to the days of milk and honey. Repossessing the lost or stolen treasures is essential in this task.

The quick about turn by the government might have confused some Modi acolytes, who had belittled and ridiculed the demand for the return of the diamond from London where it was taken by the then East India Company. The diamond has a long history of its discovery and various owners. The important part here is its journey from Lahore to London about 10 years after the British East India Company had defeated Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the legendary Sikh ruler, in 1839.

After the Maharaja’s death, his youngest son, Duleep Singh, succeeded him when he was still a child. The defeated Sikhs and the British victors signed the Treaty of Lahore in 1849 which required that the much admired and highly valuable jewel be handed over to the British by the minor king. The child king duly handed it over to Queen Victoria.

Was it a voluntary act-a gift- to the British? No! But then it is also a fact that the transfer of the diamond from Lahore to London took place under the terms of a treaty. That is how the Brits look at it—and have been doing so for years.

In 2013, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, had made it very clear that Koh-i-Noor will not be returned to India. He added that he did not believe in ‘returnism’. The Modi government first appeared impressed by that argument till it realised that as the first ‘nationalist’ government of India it cannot let go of a chance to demonstrate its ‘nationalist’ credentials by bringing back to the country a highly valued piece of diamond with a long history of being wrongfully kept in foreign custody.

But lending it a political colour—blaming the previous governments—the Modi government may have created a needless problem for itself. The effort to retrieve Koh-i-Noor is doomed and critics might use that to tease the government for a failed attempt to bring back a priceless trophy of Indian heritage.

During the long colonial era it was quite common for the victors to take away artifacts from the nations they plundered. Some of the best known museums in countries like the UK, France and German, not to speak of the USA, have large artifacts that were taken away from the countries they had defeated or conquered. Some of the famous museums in the West may become empty and bereft of their main attractions if all the artifacts originally belonging to other countries are to be returned.

It also needs to be mentioned that India is not the only country that has claimed ownership of Koh-i-Noor. Pakistan, Iran and even Afghanistan, have laid claims over it.

The Pakistani claim, as is to be expected, is steeped more on their unconcealed rivalry with India than on anything else. The Pakistanis claims rests on the fact that Koh-i-Noor was taken away to London from Lahore, a city now in Pakistan.

But in the land of the pure, history begins after August 13, 1947, when an exclusive Muslim enclave was carved out of India. Pakistan does not recognise its non-Muslim heritage that goes back 5000 years. Pakistanis cannot accept the reality of Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire surrounded by Muslim rulers. They have difficulty in recognising the non-Muslim past of Lahore.

In the unlikely event of the UK agreeing to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India, Pakistan is bound to raise hell, giving Britain an opportunity to look ‘fair’ by denying the claims of both parties. Thousands of priceless books and other Indian items continue to be kept in British libraries and museum for the same reason. India is the rightful claimant but the Brits do not want to displease the Pakistanis.

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Unending Rage

By Allabaksh
New Delhi (Syndicate Features): It may be fit to be described as poetic justice when two ‘tolerant’ stalwarts of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are at each other’s throat for certain words spoken by them. Soon after one of the prime defenders of Narendra Modi’s version of ‘tolerance’, Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, had said that the BJP members who spoke ‘nonsense’ and ‘ill-behaved’ should be sent behind bars and thrown out of the ruling party, Yogi Adityanath, a BJP Member of Parliament and a torchbearer of the Sangh Parivar’s much espoused Hindutva, termed him a ‘real life villain’.

You can only guess what sort of punishment the Yogi would prescribe for a ‘villain’. He has often accused the Opposition Congress leaders of working for ‘Pakistan’, his code for ‘villain’. There is a long list of Indians who, according to him, and those who think like him, should be pushed into Pakistan!

Kher does not have to really feel threatened in any manner from the ‘friendly fire’ directed at him. He might have been left nonplused for a moment; that is all. The anger Yogi Adityanath directed at him was expressed even more strongly by another prominent face of the Sangh Parivar, Sadhvi Prachi, who ‘dared’ Kher to send her and the Yogi to jail for their ‘nonsensical’ utterances.

For the moment, Kher is not keen on taking up the job of an American Sheriff and handcuff delinquents; he is happier leading protests against the Opposition and then rounding it off with a meeting with the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Should the followers of the Yogi and the Sadhvi go ahead and act as law enforcers?

But fear obviously gripped another ‘celebrity’. A TV anchor who is among the most recognized faces in the country received a threat of a more serious nature—reportedly a death threat for her coverage of the JNU controversy. She appeared to be sympathetic towards the students who were arrested rather than the authorities who ordered the action against them. That was construed as an unpardonable act. She reported the matter to the authorities after receiving a series of threatening calls—and then duly tweeted it, as is the fashion of the day.

The ‘threatening’ call to her came in the midst of a rush of threats in the country. The general secretary of the CPI (M), Saitaram Yechury, received a ‘threatening’ call late one night and lost no time in reporting it to the police. It was deemed serious enough for the police to barricade the party office in the heart of New Delhi.

The JNU president, Kanhaiya Kumar, would not have dreamt even in his wildest dreams that his presence at an ‘event’ on the campus would catapult him into fame—within India and abroad too. The ‘Sangh Parivar’ saw the campus ‘event’ as ‘anti-national’ and Kumar’s presence made him in the eyes of the ‘patriots’ guilty of an act of ‘sedition’. It was a good enough reason for quick intervention by the ‘patriotic’ and ‘nationalists’ forces by issuing threats to all and sundry even in the premises of courts. Ample rewards were being offered: Rs 5 lakh for cutting Kanhaiya Kumar’s tongue and Rs 11 lakh for shooting him dead.

There have been numerous instances of threats being issued against ‘anti-nationals’ in recent months. The true allegiance to state is decided by those who issue threats. That makes the Hindutva forces the prime suspect. A more authentic information can come only after a proper probe. In the meanwhile what is bothersome is that either no hurry is shown to register cases or to proceed against the culprits. Information technology gadgets seem to play a dominant role in transmitting threats and abuses.

Because of the frequency of the threats the matter no longer can be dismissed as a ‘prank’ or ‘frivolous’ in nature, and, so, unfit for intervention at the top political level. In fact, in most cases the callers proudly identify themselves with Hindutva causes. The callers of these threats feel encouraged and emboldened when their threats are dismissed as harmless aberrations.

It is not important that many who receive threats have managed to avoid any serious harm. But the harmful effect on the country’s reputation and image has been far more serious and lasting. Mere denunciation, and that too after a great deal of uproar, is meaningless unless it is followed by visible action against the errant men and women. The top levels of the ruling party do not seem to have any idea of the extent of damage the statements reportedly made by their members or sympathizers do to the country.

The government is hard put to defend the charge that the policies of the ruling party are dividing the country on the basis of religion and caste. It can considerably weaken the country, something that certain foreign forces have been trying to do so years.

Much rage and hate was in evidence after the recent agitation over the issue of reservations for the Jat community. The sufferers during the three days of the agitation say that what happened in several parts of Haryana was a grim reminder of the days of Partition; some say it was worse than that.

The deep divide between communities in Haryana is not about to disappear and hate and anger would continue to simmer. But things have to change and quickly too. The rising tension and sourness in the country has to be reversed forcefully. Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to enjoy wide mass support. He owes it to the people to address them with soothing words so as to heal the deep wounds.

Modi has often said that he is the Prime Minister of the whole country. But he has not matched that with appropriate words and action. He continues to be obsessed with his critics, especially the Congress leaders, refusing to see that the gap between his popularity and that of the Opposition leaders is still too wide to be bridged in a jiffy. Yes, that situation will not hold good very long if Modi continues to fiddle while India seethes with anger and hatred.

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Cronyism Ki Jai; Hail the Nexus

By Tukoji R. Pandit

The man in the eye of a storm

The man in the eye of a storm

The hullaballoo over Vijay Mallya, the billionaire ‘King of Good Times’, resembles the script for a stand-up comedy show on TV. It is like the police allowing a criminal to escape on a motorbike well before starting the drama of chasing him on foot and then indulging in self-praise for their efforts to nab him. After letting Mallya fly out to London with a virtually plane-load of luggage on March 2, the government has now enacted another farce. The ‘diplomatic passport’ of Mallya, a member of the Rajya Sabha, was ‘suspended’ on April 15 for four weeks! The threat that the passport can be revoked later only accentuates the drama.

It makes as much sense as the caveat that Mallya has been given a four week time to explain why his passport should not be impounded. Before that he has to appear before the Indian High Commissioner ‘within a week’. Does anyone in India really believe that the government has dealt the final blow to Mallya’s efforts to stay out of reach of the Indian tax and law enforcing agencies? Or, that a decisive step has been taken to recover the Rs 9000 crore that he reportedly owes to banks in India?

About a year ago, the country had witnessed an episode that bears a striking resemblance to the current Mallya saga. Lalit Modi, credited with the birth of the world’s most lucrative limited overs IPL tournament in India, had figured in the news because he had reportedly managed to dodge the Indian tax authorities and had been staying in the UK without a valid Indian passport and still faced no threat of being sent back to India.

Yet, from his pad in the UK Modi was able to travel anywhere in the world (except India, of course) on the strength of ‘travel documents’ issued to him by the government of Her Majesty. There was some political upheaval in India when it was alleged that two powerful figures of the ruling BJP, the chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, and external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, did their ‘humanitarian’ bit in making it possible for Modi to stay on in the UK.

  • An ‘advantage’ that Lalit enjoyed was his alleged proximity to some of the top BJP leaders. But Mallya is hardly handicapped on this score.

The government that had been voted to power with a massive mandate, obtained on the basis of its promise to end cronyism and other forms of corruption, dismissed with disdain the allegations against two of its prominent leaders and managed to effectively close the debate on the subject. Lalit Modi stays on in the UK happily and even tries his hand—successfully, it would appear—at proxy control of one of the cricket units in the country. One hears very little about the efforts to bring him back; perhaps we will soon be told that he is as clean as the Ganga. Never mind that actually the Ganga is so dirty that successive government have not been able to clean it even after spending crores of taxpayers’ money since the mid-1980s.

The UK government had found no reason to pack Lalit Modi off to his native land; he had apparently committed no crime in the UK. So, what ‘crime’ has Mallya committed in the UK that may force the hands of his present hosts to hand him over to Indian authorities?

An ‘advantage’ that Lalit enjoyed was his alleged proximity to some of the top BJP leaders. But Mallya is hardly handicapped on this score. He was, as far as one can recall, elected a Rajya Sabha member from his native Karnataka supported by nearly all major political parties. Even if one has got his political alliances wrong, can it be believed that a man like Mallya will have no ‘cronies’ in all major political parties?

Assuming that somehow Mallya is brought back to India to stand trial on charges like money laundering and failure to return the Rs 9000 crore debt to Indian banks will any ‘big fish’, be it a politician or an official, be caught for helping him fly out of trouble from India?

For most people it is important to see Mallya or anyone who is accused of a serious crime or fraud being punished by a court of law. His escape is viewed as a typical example of how ‘cronyism’ works in India—an unholy alliance among the rich and he influential of the land. Economists say this kind of cronyism is bad for the country. What seems to matter is what is good for a few privileged individuals.

A jail term alone for a ‘fugitive’ or whatever does not satisfy the people who are affected by the maleficence of the rich and powerful. The Sahara boss is perhaps a rare member of the rich class who has been made to cool his heels in a prison cell. One is inclined to blame it largely on his misplaced trust on some shifty political friends of his. But whatever the reason, many of those whose savings were washed away are yet to recover their money in full even after court’s intervention.

In an attempt to wriggle out of his troubles, Mallya had reportedly offered to pay Rs 4000 crore upfront and the rest later. The banks, who had obviously loaned him money received from their depositors, refused his offer. Perhaps it was a ruse or perhaps the Mallya offer was genuine; one can’t say.

The question is more fundamental. How come that repeatedly we hear about the rich getting away by defaulting payment of several thousand crores of rupees that the bank advance them so effortlessly? The same banks will do all manner of ‘due diligence’ when advancing much smaller—paltry in comparison- loans to ordinary people and then send their ‘goons’ to recover the due in case of default or delay in returning the money.

Among the poorer sections the farmer suffers the most because his capacity to return the loan is entirely dependent on his crops. Failure of the crops means no income and many attendant miseries. The banks accept no ‘excuse’. It has been reported that most cases of the farmers’ suicide are related to their inability to repay the loans. They do not have the option of flying out of the country, much less ‘cronies’ in high places

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Should Celebrity Endorsements End?

Most visible celebrity face -Amitabh_Bachchan

Most visible celebrity face -Amitabh_Bachchan

By Atul Cowshish

A parliamentary committee, headed by a TDP Member, J.C. Divakar Reddy, is reported to have proposed a hefty fine (up to Rs 5o lakhs) and a long jail term (up to five years) for celebrities who ‘mislead’ consumers/ buyers with their endorsements. The proposal has not been given a legal shape yet. It has to be accepted by the government and passed by parliament to become a law of the land. Nonetheless. the recommendation needs to be considered in all seriousness and merits wide support because there have been instances when public has felt ‘cheated’ by endorsement by their favourite film star or sporting personality.

Some of the most popular items that are endorsed by celebrities include ‘cola’ drinks and ‘junk food’, both of which are described as harmful, especially for children who form the largest segment of consumers of these products.

Recently, the Indian cricket team captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had to defend his position as ‘brand ambassador’ of real estate developer who had failed to deliver the flats even two years after the promised date. The reaction on the social media stumped him. And he has since given up the endorsement of a builder, who, consumers allege, has cheated them.

It can be said in Dhoni’s defence that he was not selling the flats; he was merely promoting a Noida housing project. But Dhoni knows it as much as anyone else that when a celebrity like him promotes something it influences the decision of a large number of consumers and buyers. If it were not true why should Dhoni or any other celebrity be roped in?

Some months ago, another celebrity, this time from the world of glamour, had withdrawn from the endorsement of a ‘fast-food’ item after it was said to contain some harmful ingredients. It is a different matter that the food item was later found to be quite ‘safe’.

Some of the most popular items that are endorsed by celebrities include ‘cola’ drinks and ‘junk food’, both of which are described as harmful, especially for children who form the largest segment of consumers of these products.

It may appear as somewhat strange that the ‘brand ambassadors’ of various consumer products are the big names in films, television and the sporting world, especially cricket. They seem to be happy promoting just about everything and anything—from soaps, hair oil and toothpaste to ‘dream houses’, cars and diamond jewellery.

Some think that certain celebrities are being ‘over exposed’ through advertisements. Hardly a day passes without their faces staring down from the pages of newspapers or TV screens. It can produce a fatigue among newspaper readers and viewers.

While celebrities—popular persons with large following—appearing in advertisements has been a long practice it has now become almost the rule. Earlier, the celebrity appearance was certainly not as common as it is now. The old tradition of unknown models appearing in ads seems to be nearing the end. It appears, almost all products directed at children and women and even many items of mass consumption have to be ‘endorsed’ by celebrities these days.

The ad budgets of manufacturers and service providers who hire the celebrities must obviously be several times larger today than ever before. The famous celebrities charge anything from two or three crore rupees a day to Rs 10 crore for a day’s ‘shoot’. Time is certainly money for them! The huge ad costs would certainly be calculated in fixing the price of the product.

The hiring of celebrities for endorsements is actually a win-win situation for both parties—the celebrity and the company that hires them. The celebrities from the glamour world want to be constantly seen and heard by their fans and followers to keep their market value pegged high. The ads make that sure.

Such is the nature of the glamour world that a ‘star’ who is out of sight will soon be out of mind—on way out from the industry. That can have a devastating effect, mentally, psychologically and even physically. Some stars had reportedly failed to cope with the stress of living in virtual oblivion and had fallen into depression; some hit the bottle hard. Some suicides could also be traced to the sudden break in a blooming career.

In the sporting world the impact of going out of sight and mind can be equally painful for the person concerned. But often it is well anticipated. In fact, many of the sporting stars announce their retirement even though they are at the prime of their youth; some are, however, ‘forced’ into retirement.

The issue of concern for the public, however, is not how going out of limelight affects a celebrity. The fans and followers can get emotional when sympathizing with their idols but there is little or no impact on their lives with the waning of the fortunes of their idols.

On the other hand, the fans of the celebrities can suffer a great deal of hardship from the harmful consequences of a product that they had—foolishly, it might be said—bought because it was endorsed by their favourite public figure.

Another popular celebrity face - Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Another popular celebrity face – Mahendra Singh Dhoni

The celebrities, it is said, can’t be held responsible if a product they endorse turns out to be bad in any way. Perhaps legally it is right. But the celebrities certainly have to bear some moral responsibility by taking up an assignment that brought a measure of misery to the people who adore them rather blindly. Can it be said that fame built on people’s trust and love is free of any responsibility? In politics, the term ‘moral responsibility’ is frequently thrown around to bring down rivals and opponents.

The hiring of celebrities for endorsements is actually a win-win situation for both parties—the celebrity and the company that hires them

The parliamentary committee’s recommendations are a step ahead of what the ministry of consumer affairs had reportedly suggested—both fine and jail term. If accepted, the new measures will be incorporated in the Consumer Protection Law. That will certainly make the rich and famous ‘brand ambassadors’ careful when they sign lucrative endorsement deals.

To the old fashioned it doesn’t make sense that consumer products can’t sell unless endorsed by a celebrity. Surely, a toothpaste, or any other product, will still find buyers if it is ‘endorsed’ by an unknown figure in the ads. It depends entirely upon what you are looking for, not the person who is ‘hawking’ it in newspaper ads or the TV screen.

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Project Back To Mahabharata With Khattar

By TUSHAR CHARAN

Kingdom_of_Dreams_auditorium_night_view,_Gurgaon

Kingdom_of_Dreams_auditorium_night_view,_Gurgaon

There is no dispute that the state of Haryana, established only about four decades ago when Punjab was trifurcated, is deeply associated with the Mahabharata. The battlefield of Kurukshetra in the heart of Haryana can be called the centre piece of the epic. There are many other small towns in the state which have varied claims as contributors to India’s ‘glorious past’ and, hence, deserve to be known to the world, preferably after they have been renamed.

Thankfully, the chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, has taken upon himself the onerous task of lifting the undeserving anonymity of these historic towns. The matter is so urgent that it did not require any ‘referendum’ after the private secretary of the chief minister had briefed his boss about the urgency to rename Gurgaon. Before he took up an official job, the PS was a local politician, which entitles him to claim that he spoke on behalf of the local people.

Khattar is eminently suited to bring back the days when people were free of any guile and followed the dietary diktats of religion. Among his first acts as chief minister was banning cow slaughter and consumption of beef. Those who loved their beef stakes were rightly advised not to step into the sacred territory of Haryana where they could risk their life and limb.

Khattar, the shrewd politician that he is, also choose the right time for detaching Gurgaon from the tyranny of its name. For the first time in the history of this ancient land the country is under the rule of those who are committed to the restoration of the ‘Ram Rajya’. A union minister has actually informed us that after centuries India is being ruled by a true Hindu. It is not our present masters’ fault if some people refuse to see that implementing ‘cultural’ agenda must take precedence over ‘development’, a dubious Congress-Leftist concept.

Under Khattar’s ‘Back to Mahabharata’ project, Gurgaon, a little known neighbour of Delhi till big multi-nationals started to rush in because there was no space in Delhi, has been renamed Gurugram. Sure there are critics but they could never see that it was a name that was never in sync with ‘Indian culture’. It was a great felony to describe Gurgaon as the ‘Millennium City’, which reflects an elitist Western influence. Swanky office and residential complexes that now occupy the once barren lands of about 50 villages spread below the ravaged Aravali hills can please only the beef eaters who are hypocritical enough to flaunt ‘exotic’ addresses which look so incongruous in the near total absence of civic amenities. And the denizens of the ‘exotica’ think they live in down town Manhattan.

The name, Gurugram, denotes that during the days of yore Gurgaon was the ‘gram’ (literally, a village) of an ancient Guru (teacher). The Guru in question is Dronacharya. According to one’s incomplete knowledge (an honest confession) of the epics, Dronacharya was famous as a teacher of archery who asked a disciple of lower caste to cut his thumb so that he did not score over his favourite disciple from a higher caste. Sceptics might find it ironic that an ancient Guru was being honoured at a time when all parties were vying with each other in claiming ownership of Bhimrao Ambedkar, hailing him as India’s greatest son.

Some unrelated issues have been brought in by critics, like the fact that Gurgaon is India’s third richest city and that it has attracted over 250 of the world’s best 500 companies. So what if the rechristening makes the residents spend money on bringing about the changes necessary after their city officially becomes Gurugram? It is a ‘non-issue’ like ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or the calls to a section of Indians to pack their bags for Pakistan. Nobody will run away from a city because it has acquired a rather ‘rustic’ name!

Khattar need not waste his time on another ‘non-issues’ raised by residents who say that the more important issue for the city is to transform the primitive state of the civic services. This is the kind of argument you can expect from citizens who, by training and upbringing, have been closer to the ‘decadent’ culture and ways of the West than their own ‘cultural heritage’.

They shame this sacred land called Bharatvarsha. Oh, yes. No time should be lost in renaming India as Bharatvarsha. Khattar can provide the lead and be remembered with gratitude by the future generations.

That will blunt the criticism that Khattar has not been able to show himself as a competent chief minister. He has fended off the criticism of his handling of the violent agitation over reservations for the Jats by blaming the previous Congress government. It was the Congress that had forced his party’s hands to promise reservations to the Jats in its election manifesto.

Cyber Green Building, Gurgaon

Cyber Green Building,
Gurgaon

Apart from renaming of the country, a long list of towns and cities across India that is Bharat is awaiting change in name. We need not put up with the shame of commemorating the period of foreign rule by retaining the ‘foreign’ names. It is only because of the ‘tolerance’ of the ‘patriotic’ Indians that these names have not been erased even after Independence. The process of the country’s pride has to be hastened and the lead could come from Manohar Lal Khattar.

So, after Haryana where could he start? The choice is big. It hangs every ‘patriotic’ Indian’s head in shame that they have to live in towns that are still called by ‘un-Indian’ names like Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Nizamabad, Osmanabad, Adilabad, Ahmednagar, Allahabad, Ahmedabad and so on.

Ahmedabad could be an ideal choice for Khattar after he has revived the pride of Gurgaon, sorry Gurugram. Ahmedabad is the city of the ‘Hindu Hridya Samrat’ who now rules the country. His party has long been demanding that Ahmedabad be renamed as Karnavati. That even a leader as fearless as Narendra Modi was not able to change the name of his home town is understandable. Modi is not so naïve as to give another handle to his critics from 2002 when the city saw an unprecedented ‘reaction’ from the majority community against the ‘action’ of the minority community. Khattar has only to bother about a smaller though recent matter for which the blame has already placed on his rivals. Onward with Khattar!

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China’s Double Speak on Terror

By MALLADI RAMA RAO*

After much humming and hawing China has joined the war against terrorism though Beijing is the first God Father of terrorists. The calibrated attempt at image makeover deftly exploits the threat posed by the Islamic State or Daesh but doesn’t hide its true colours.

The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, has told the UN Security Council that Beijing cannot afford to ‘stand by and look on with folded hands’ as IS steps up its murderous missions. ‘Nations must stand united against violent extremist ideology,’ he said and went on to warn against ‘arbitrary interference’ – a barb directed at the US because of its penchant for ‘arbitrarily’ attacks of countries deemed as the axis of evil.

From Wang-Speak it is clear that the Chinese have concluded that the international community must unite to uproot Islamist extremism as represented by IS. This signals a slight shift in the Chinese outlook of the world, and dumping of Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “keeping a low profile” in foreign and military affairs. This shift however doesn’t undermine ‘all-weather friend’ Pakistan’s interests vis-à-vis Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Hafeez Saeed of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

Hitherto, China worked hard to spread its economic interests. China has been happy to do business with various countries, shunned by the West, particularly the US. It doesn’t feel the need to tell the countries it trades with about what kind of government they should have. If these countries gave (continue to give) a short shrift to democracy it was (is) their concern. China cares less if some of these countries nurture terrorism, as long as it is not directed towards China.

 NORTHEAST INDIA

The Chinese have aided and abetted armed insurgency in North-east India, training rebels, supplying arms and ammunition to take on the Indian security forces. Pakistan had collaborated in the enterprise that was in its full glow particularly from the sixties to the nineties.

Any hope that the Chinese have rolled back that enterprise was set at rest in April 2014, when reports surfaced that China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO) was supplying weapons through Thai- based gun runners like Willy Naru. AK series of rifles, Universal Machine Guns (UMG), M20 pistols in the armoury of   insurgent groups like NSCN (I-M), and ULFA are of Chinese make.

The Chinese nexus with the North Myanmar-based rebel groups has been used primarily to promote Beijing’s commercial interests. Many Chinese companies have taken up energy, mining, and oil pipelines projects in the area which has a tenuous link with Naypyidaw.

 BRACHIN

Chinese interest in the north-east region of India dates back to the early days of India’s independence from the British yoke in 1947. What brought this into play was the desire to retain its influence in SE Asia, Indo-China, and NE region of India which is contiguous to South East Asia. So came the concept, BRACHIN, followed by much more ambitious project, Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front, IBRF.

BRACHIN signified areas of Brahmaputra in India and those in Chin and Kachin States of Myanmar. It failed to click due to a variety of factors in the ideological and political realm. Both the Chins and Kachins refused to subordinate their Christian faith to the Chinese ideology.

 IBRF

The IBRF is not dead, not as yet, but is not in the original trajectory; its game plan is to bring together all Mongoloid tribes in NE India and areas further east, and link up with their cohorts in Myanmar. Put differently, the IBRF was a mischievous front organization and its impact was (is) felt in Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram. Another province, Arunachal Pradesh, is claimed as ‘Southern Tibet’.

Reports surfaced in the summer of 2015 that China could be helping the North-east rebels to set up a government in exile, probably somewhere in Myanmar. Security experts who have been Sinologists do not reject such a possibility. Because, this will be the Chinese answer to the Tibetan government in exile that operates from Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

These reports also spoke about rebels trying to procure surface-to-air missiles (SAM) from China. Money has not been a problem for these insurgent groups.  When the Chinese are not supplying them arms and ammunition gratis, they easily spare the money from their lucrative business of drug trafficking and extortion.

 ISI DRUG MONEY

Interestingly, Pakistan’s ISI, which is known to export terrorism to India through its proxies like LeT and JeM, has also been using the drug money route.  Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that the jihadi underbelly of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment has created a slush fund of some $ 4 bn for terror-export.

The Chinese interference in India’s North-east has been continuous since the 1960s. They started training Naga rebels in 1966 quite openly. The training camp was closed down after India’s objections. But it continued to function away from public gaze. Probably, the Chinese have the mistaken notion that their bargaining position with India improves by keeping the pressure on India’s North-east.

Mizoram National Front’s insurgency in the Lushai hills (Mizoram today) was a joint venture of China and Pakistan. While Chinese leaders warmly received Laldenga, the MNF chief and his colleagues, Pakistan provided them shelter in the Chittagong Hill region of the then East Pakistan.

 MNF TO ULFA

By the end of eighties, however, Laldenga gave up the gun, entered into an accord with New Delhi and joined the political mainstream of Mizoram to become the Chief Minister of the province. His decision was as much a tribute to the realization that power does not necessarily come from the barrel of a gun as a snub to the mischievous pursuits from the land of the Confucius. The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland led by Isak and Muivah is presently in negotiations with New Delhi to end their insurgency on some respectable terms.

China is believed to have tried to unite rival insurgent groups so that they are in a better position to unsettle India. Many leaders of insurgent groups operating in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur are said to travel frequently to China from their hideouts in South-east Asia or neighbouring Myanmar or Bangladesh. The message is therefore loud and clear: the Chinese will not give up the policy of upsetting India in any manner merely because they have denounced IS.

In June 2015, an army convoy was attacked in Manipur, killing 18 soldiers. It was described as the handiwork of ULFA rebels, who operate from their hideouts in Northern Myanmar. This and the recovery of substantial quantities of AK class rifles, machine guns and grenades during periodic raids by security forces on the hideouts of the North-east rebels shows that the supply chain of Chinese arms and ammunition has not been broken.

The Chinese support Pakistan’s vast terror machine targeting India. They refuse to blame Pakistan when Pakistani and Pakistan-based terrorists attack India even if the rest of the world acknowledges that fact. At the UN, the Chinese go out of the way to bail out their ‘all weather’ friend Pakistan when it faces awkward moments during discussions on terror or when the question of taking action against UN-designated terror organisations is raised.

China has invested considerably in the Pakistan Army and ISI in pursuit of a ‘low –risk strategy’ for containment of India, says a Canada- based political scientist.

Speaking at a meeting of egg-heads held in New Delhi (Feb 21, 2003) Prof Ashok Kapoor from the University of Waterloo said, “China has replaced the CIA as a major source of funds for Pakistan’s ISI”.

He did not elaborate his thesis but asserted, “China is encouraging Pakistan to keep talking to India while keeping it bleedings in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere”.

The recent Jaish-e-Muhammad attacks on Pathankot air base, and the Chinese reaction thereof are a standing testimony to this Asian reality.

SELECTIVE IRE

The Chinese, like Pakistanis, are selective in expressing their ire over terror activities. Both countries have classified terror groups into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Pakistan values its so-called ‘non-state actors’– who kill Indians, and condemns those who explode bombs within the land of the pure.

Lately, the Islamist terrorism has come to badly hurt China, and it could no longer keep quiet about the threat. Firstly religious extremism has become intense in its Uighur Muslim-dominated western province of Xinjiang. Secondly, the IS violence has taken a toll of Chinese lives in the Middle East and Africa.

China has encouraged large-scale migration of people from its interior to Xinjiang   angering the local population who see it as an attempt to bring about a demographic transformation in the Muslim part of the country. Many mainland Chinese have been killed in the region by angry Uighurs.

 UYGHUR NARRATIVE

China holds the Turkistan Islamic Party (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), which has been spearheading the Uyghur cause responsible for terrorist acts at home and for attacks on diaspora in south-east Asia but remains silent over the fact that the ETIM’s safe havens are located in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The official narrative in China is that the Uyghur rebels come from Central Asia.

Elizabeth Van Wie Davis (Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu) has an interesting take on Uyghur Muslim’s ethnic separatism. “There is no single Uyghur agenda, and grievances of Uyghurs against the Chinese government are mostly political in nature. While some Uyghurs desire an independent state in line with Turkic ethnic groups of Central Asia, others desire an autonomous relation with China while retaining their distinct culture, whereas others desire extensive integration with the Chinese political system”.

If the face of terrorism in China has changed the blame rests squarely on the policies of Beijing and its wave of suppression coupled with deliberate attempts at engineering a demographic change.

Lately, reports have emerged that the Uighur rebels have joined hands with the IS to carry out attacks on Chinese nationals, in and out of the country. According to a report in The Diplomat (May 28, 2015), “since 2012 hundreds of Chinese Uyghurs have fled to Syria and Iraq via Turkey to fight against the Assad regime and later joined ISIS. Several Muslim militants returning from ISIS war zones were arrested in Xinjiang in March 2015”.

All this has naturally heightened Chinese concerns. A natural corollary is the Chinese-Speak against the IS. And anti-terrorism doctrine that invests Beijing with the right to anti-terror ops abroad and requires technology companies to assist security agencies in decrypting content. Also the possibility of China joining the international efforts for an all-out assault on IS

Yet, it cannot be said that China is unequivocal in rejecting all forms of terrorism. Because, it is unwilling to invoke its clout (rosy camaraderie?) with Pakistan to eliminate the roots of Uyghur terrorism.

Well, in this respect, China is no different from the US of America, which has been not willing to walk the talk on Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Haqqani Network and a host of other jihadi enterprises created and nurtured on the Pakistani soil for ops targeted at India and Afghanistan.

(* This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Power Politics, a New Delhi-based magazine)

 

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Foreign ‘Conquests’ to Modi’s Rescue?

By Atul Cowshish
PM_ModiIt is not in doubt that the year 2015 saw a discernable decline in the popularity of Narendra Modi within the country—where it matters. Not a good omen for someone who had taken over as the prime minister following an impressive mandate in May of the previous year. During 2015, many discordant notes against him echoed across the country from a wide section of society: artists, intellectuals, economists and, of course, his political opponents. And the poll loses, including the loss in the much-hyped Bihar assembly elections. It was surely a setback for the two BJP leaders who run the party affairs, Modi and his trusted aide, Amit Shah, whom he had nominated as the party president.

But it is equally undeniable that as an itinerant prime minister of India throughout the year Modi had attracted favourable notices—ecstatic in some quarters—abroad. His latest foreign ‘conquest’ was Pakistan where he spent barely a few hours after inviting himself as a guest of his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, when he was celebrating his birthday as well as the wedding of his granddaughter in his mansion in the outskirts of Lahore.

In terms of showmanship, Modi’s trademark, his ‘rocking’ visits to the US and the UK would probably rank much above his brief stopover in Lahore on Christmas Day 2015. But the political echoes of this visit are much louder. The more ardent Modi supporters would have us believe that it was a diplomatic ‘master stroke’ by the Indian prime minister, a ‘path breaking’ event and so on.

The media reaction to all the nearly 30 foreign visits of Modi has largely been euphoric. The hyperboles become stronger and stronger and the ratings of his diplomacy get higher and higher as he notches up huge credit as a frequent flyer each month.

The puff on Modi’s foreign sojourns may be partly the result of efforts by his spin doctors. But quite apparently Modi relishes his foreign visits which deflect attention from the growing criticism that he faces domestically. He obviously believes that the hoopla created by each of his foreign visits counters all the negative publicity that he and his party attract in the country.

His flying visit to Lahore has to be placed in a category different from his other visits. It will take some time to judge the impact of this visit on his image. Pakistan is not just another ‘foreign’ country: it is the ‘enemy’ next door. Many would think that the ‘enemy’ does not change its spots after a quick visit by a neighbour. Modi’s newfound friendliness towards the western neighbor after habitually and regularly demonising it for years perplexes many.

His Pakistan policy hitherto has been confusing Pakistan. He won the polls by promising to be ‘tough’ with Pakistan. His ‘Parivar’ (family) expects him to be ‘tough’. The flip flops on Pakistan stand in contrast to the steadfast positive direction noticed in his policy towards other countries.

The ‘Parivar’ to which Modi belongs consists of right-wing groups who can be defined as unrepentant critics of Pakistan. A change in the Pakistani ‘mindset’ for better Indo-Pak relations is necessary. But the saffron Parivar too has to don new clothes to demonstrate that it has mellowed towards the ‘enemy’ and supports Modi’s ostensible moves to befriend Pakistan.

Are the BJP and its ‘Parivar’ reconciled to the creation of Pakistan? Never mind that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as prime minister of India, had publicly made a public gesture during his famous Lahore visit that he and his party accept the fact of Pakistan being a separate sovereign nation. But the ‘Parivar’ keeps chanting the ‘Akhand Bharat’ mantra that is in conflict with what Vajpayee said. Ram Madhav, an influential general secretary of the BJP ‘loaned’ to the ruling party by the RSS to keep an eye on the political arm of the ‘Parivar’, rekindled the ‘Akhand Bharat’ controversy during an encounter on a Bahrain-based TV network.

The TV interview took place days before Modi had landed in Lahore but it was telecast, though unintentionally, more or less when Modi was smoking the peace pipe with Sharif. Of course, Ram Madhav, has refuted the notion that the RSS or the BJP believe in achieving ‘Akhand Bharat’, India as it was before August 15, 1947, through military force. He says it will come about with the will of the people of the three countries who were at one time one—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Madhav is not the only Indian politician who speaks of ‘Akhand Bharat’, though some of them like the Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, do not use the term. They speak of a ‘confederation’ which essentially means ‘Greater India’ or Akhand Bharat that will incorporate two other independent and sovereign countries with India.

It is astonishing that these advocates of a Greater India are completely oblivious of the fact that their notion of restoring the boundaries of pre-partition India evokes serious misgivings in the two other countries. There may be people in Pakistan and Bangladesh who desire friendly relations with India but they do not think unification of three countries or redrawing the boundaries is the best way to do it. The talk of reunification or even a ‘confederation’ in the sub-continent is interpreted in India’s neighbourhood as a proof of India’s desire to be the regional hegemon.

For a variety of reasons, including historic, the state of India-Pakistan relations affect internal politics in both countries. The stark fact is that for most of the past 68 years, the two countries have had tense relations with negative perceptions of each other. The use of terror against India by Pakistan has been a major factor in keeping relations between the two countries sour. The BJP has been in the forefront of parties that have exploited the people’s sentiments against Pakistan to enlarge grass root level support.

It is not clear if Modi’s unscheduled visits and talks with his Pakistani counterpart would bring about a genuine change of heart in his party towards the western neighbour when the Opposition parties will be trying to steal BJP’s strong anti-Pakistan thunder. Although it is pointless to be definitive about it at this stage, the Pakistan visit of Modi may not rescue him if his domestic popularity continues to slide as controversies start erupting over ‘scams’, slowdown of economy, rising prices and similar other issues.

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By Mohshin Habib

Bangladesh Islamist leader Motiur Rahman Nizami was sentenced to death by War Crimes Tribunal

Bangladesh Islamist leader Motiur Rahman Nizami was sentenced to death by War Crimes Tribunal

Bangladesh has been suffering a deadly conflict between the progressive forces led by iconless youngsters, and the fundamentalists led by Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest religious political party.

There is currently an uprising of progressive youths of Dhaka, especially university students, bloggers, and artists demanding capital punishment for some leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami: those on trial before an international criminal court for their actions during the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971, when they collaborated with Pakistan in massacring a large number of civilians.

The conflict has disclosed the strength of radical Islamist power in the country. On February 5, 2013, a movement triggered in downtown Dhaka by bloggers, students and youths in a non-violent protest was immediately supported by large number of Dhaka residents, intellectuals, journalists and the allied parties of the ruling government, who — by singing, dancing, and depicting different works of art — demanded banning the religious parties from the state politics. But tens of thousands of Islamists, led by Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing, were prepared to counter the movement violently and protest holding the trials.

Since the start of the uprising by the progressive front, two meritorious bloggers were hacked to death and three have been seriously injured. Eyewitnesses stated that the killers were bearded, and wore religious attire.

On 22 February 2013, after Friday religious services in over 250,000 mosques across the country, tens of thousands of radical Muslims came out, protesting. “The bloggers are atheists, and they insulted our Prophet.” In course of the demonstrations, they vandalized more than a dozen Hindu temples and dozens of houses of the minority Hindus, and they attacked policemen and law enforcement officials. They used women and children as human shields to fight against the law enforcement agencies; there were more than 19 killed . On 28 February, to protest against the death penalty for one of the top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamists called a countywide strike. In a wave of violence that erupted across the country, 33 people, including four policemen, were killed, and scores were injured.

On 3 March 2013, Jamaat-e-Islami’s followers used a photoshopped image of the leader’s face on the moon, and assembled locals through repeated announcements on loudspeakers from many mosques of a rumor that the Jamaat leader’s face was seen on the moon and that it is holy duty of Muslims to save him from the tribunal court’s verdict.
More than 20 people, including two policemen, were killed. In other violence and attacks by the Islamists in last 30 days, more than 100 people, including members of Jamaat, and 16 policemen, have died. Currently, banned Islamist groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Harkautl Jihad, and Hizb-ut-Tawhid are operating alongside Jamaat-e-Islami.

Jamaat-e-Islami was formally established from the thoughts of Maulana Abu Ala Moududi, a strong advocate of the Wahhabi movement in British India. The party’s objective has been to establish an Islamic state, governed by Sharia Law. The party was banned after the victory of Bangladesh over Pakistan in 1971. In 1975, however, in a coup, some military officers assassinated the founding father of the country, enabling the chief of the army at that time to seize power, and Jamaat-e-Islami to resume political activities again in Bangladesh.

The party’s support is rapidly increasing. In the parliamentary election in 2008, it garnered only 5 out of 300 parliamentary seats. But in an apparent backlash, after the secularist forces won the majority to govern, Jamaat gained momentum. Now almost all the Madrassas [Islamic religious schools] are controlled by Jamaat-e-Islami and other ultra-Islamist groups — and they are gaining vast support across the country. The Jamaat party also now has immense die-hard support in UK — numbering in the thousands — where the party chief, Golam Azam, now held in custody, has been exiled for years. According to Chris Blackburn, a UK based political intelligence analyst, the Jamaat-e-Islami controls influential religious organizations in UK, so the trend of fanaticism within these communities will probably rise at a greater rate than in Bangladesh.

Blackburn also stated that the Jamaat of Bangladesh has been repeatedly linked to terrorist organizations: the majority of the leaders Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh(JMB) and Jagrata Muslim Janata (JMJB) have histories of involvement with Jamaat and its student wing, Islamic Chatra Shibir.

Blackburn continues in the report that in 2004, Russian security agents from the Federal Security Bureau assassinated Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, the former vice president of Chechnya, in a car bomb attack in Doha, Qatar. They believed he was meeting with wealthy Middle Eastern figures to collect funds for jihad, and that he was recipient of Jamaati funds to wage war on Russia. Jamaat-e-Islami is listed by Russia’s Supreme Court as a leading financier and supporter of terrorism.

Not only Britain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some of the gulf countries have impenetrable relations with the Jamaat leaders: John L. Esposito, a professor of International affairs at Georgetown University, disclosed in his book, The Future of Islam, how Saudi Arabia developed close ties with major Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami. Many pro-Saudi media outlets, such as Al Jazeera, Saudi Gazette, Ikhwan, and Muslim Observer also blindly support Jamaat-e-Islami.

( Courtesy: Gatestone Institute)

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Modi “Suit” Politics

modidressing_By Tushar Charan

A weird reason advanced for the licking his party received in the Delhi Assembly polls was said to be the expensive, reportedly worth Rs 10 lakh, suit that prime minister, Narendra Modi, wore briefly during a meeting with the US president, Barack Obama, when he was in Delhi during the Republic Day celebrations. Critics said that the suit with his name in pin stripes sullied his image in the eyes of the ‘common man’ who did not expect a former ‘chaiwallah’—a reference to his humble origin—to be such a showoff in the selection of his clothes.

That Narendra Modi likes to dress colourfully has been apparent, especially his fondness for the headgears of various styles and forms, which despite all the varieties do not include the old standard political headgear of ‘Gandhi cap’. The great attention that he pays to his attire has made people forget a former home minister and governor of several states for his sin of changing his clothes several times a day even at an hour of grief in the nation.

India is still to come out of its ‘socialist’ mindset of post-Independence days, but it does sound bizarre to suggest a man’s (or a woman’s) sense of dress greatly influences the mind of the average Indian voter. Display of opulence in public continues to be decried and ‘simple living’ is applauded as a virtue. But a suit becoming a major factor in a poll? No, Sir.

It can be said that the way a public figure dresses is a political statement, usually when that figure shows no interest in wearing flashy clothes. Quite the contrary. Forget Modi’s expensive suit. Consider the ‘firebrand’ Socialist leader, George Fernandes. He made it a point to always appear in public in crumpled clothes.

A well-publicised fact was that he washed those clothes himself and did not send them for ironing. George Fernandes, forced by illness to live in oblivion, won and lost elections. But in none of those polls his crumpled kurta-pyjama played a major role.

untitled
Modi may have heralded a new era of sartorial politics; even the new kid on the bloc, Arvind Kejriwal, may have made a contribution by appearing with a muffler wrapped around his face, but it can be seen that still the majority of Indian politicians prefer to be attired in white clothes—usually dhoti or kurta-pyjama. Just when the ‘Gandhi cap’ was in danger of disappearing from the top of our ‘Netas’, Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party seems to have provided it a fresh lease of life, though the topi (cap) is adorned with the party’s name and symbol.

If the criticism is about the cost of the ‘bandgala’ that Modi wore, the ‘common man’ has to rely solely on what Modi’s critics say. On their own, most Indians would have neither known nor cared about the cost of the controversial attire Modi wore that cold day in January. There is another famous Indian politician, a woman with a large following, who wears clothes that may not be as expensive as a Rs 10 lakh ‘bandgala’, but she makes that up by wearing sparkling diamonds. She may be out of favour of the voters at the moment, but nobody has claimed that this is because of her predilections for diamonds or gold.

But the Modi’s one million rupee buttoned-up jacket did make the headlines. It must have caused him a great deal of embarrassment, more comfortable as usually he is with adulation and praise. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party did it best to fend off criticism on the subject at a time when Modi’s popularity appeared to be faltering since he took over in Delhi last May.

A Modi ‘loyalist’ of repute jumped to his rescue with gusto. When the Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, referred to the astronomical cost of the suit that Modi wore, Arun Jaitley dubbed it as marking ‘a new low’ in Indian politics. He has been faithfully chronicling new ‘lows’ in Indian politics from the time of the last Lok Sabha poll campaign in which the contribution of Narendra Modi was no doubt edifying, especially in relation to his choice of words for the mother and son Gandhi duo.

The BJP found it unacceptable that the Congress and other opposition parties were making a mountain out of a mere suit. When the criticism did not seem to go away, the BJP thought of a brilliant PR masterstroke: the controversial suit will be auctioned along with other gifts received by the prime minister in the last nine months and the proceeds will go to swell the funds for cleaning the Ganga. It was a clear case of killing two birds with one stone.

The criticism against Modi had been deflected by declaring that the money collected from the auction will go to serve a national cause and, what is more, is in line with the BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ agenda.

But there is also a chance that Modi and the BJP will have to endure with the ‘Rs 10-lakh suit’ controversy for many days ahead. It has emerged that the suit was given as a ‘gift’ to Modi by a Gujarati businessman who claims to be close to him. The said businessman was hoping that Modi would attend his son’s wedding wearing the special suit he had gifted him. When that did not appear possible, the businessman drew solace from the fact that he did wear on the day of his son’s wedding and the suit drew wide attention.

modi_suit_pkgIt is neither wrong nor unusual for heads of governments and states to receive gifts, sometimes expensive ones too. Most of it comes from their hosts when they travel abroad on state duty. Here was a very expensive ‘gift’, a suit made of especially chosen cloth that had Modi’s name embroidered on it, that was not handed over by a foreign host to his Indian visitor.

What if the suit had not caught the eye of the media? Will Modi have kept it in his personal wardrobe? There is no way of knowing for sure, but it is as much likely as unlikely that he would not have sent to an auction house which had apparently attracted some who were on the radar of the taxman. It is good that an adulatory Gujarati businessman is going to help a cause of ‘national’ interest of cleaning the dirty waters with a contribution of nearly 5 crore for a suit worn by our dear beloved prime minister!

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Overseas Indians and their ‘Motherland’

By Atul Cowshish

The annual jamboree of overseas Indian was started by Atal Bihari Vajpaee, the first prime minister belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, in 2003. It is, therefore, natural that this year the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that attracts overseas Indians and people of Indian citizens was held early in January in expensively decorated Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, the home state of the new Indian prime minister with a known weakness for foreign travel even while he denounces certain Indians for their ‘foreign’ origin.

There was a distinct Gujarati flavour to the occasion that coincided with the century of the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (home coming) of the best known Gujarati in the world, Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa. At the end of the overseas Indians’ gathering followed the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ show that one minister from Gujarat described as the ‘Davos of the East’.

There is no doubt that many of the delegates for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas gathering must have stayed on to attend the ‘vibrant’ show. The Gujaratis constitute a large part of the Indian diaspora of the rich class. It can also be in no doubt that the two separate gatherings at Gandhinagar had attracted the better off diaspora. The cost of flying into India, the registration fee and five-star board and lodge could not have been small by any standard.

The government of India uses the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to focus on overseas Indians—those who do well in life. But it is expected to take up the concerns of all overseas Indians, rich and poor alike. While there is nothing wrong in inviting the rich ‘Indians’, the fact is that not every overseas Indians or Indian citizens living and working abroad, is rich.

The Gulf region has the largest number of ‘Pravasi’ Indians– nearly 10 million. Most of them are employed in ‘low paid’ jobs that may not appear ‘low paid’ if converted into Indian rupees but in the countries where they live they will not be included in the middle income group.

The ‘Modi Sarkar’ expects the money that the rich overseas Indians earn to be invested in their ‘mother’ country. The government also hopes that the Indian diaspora engaged in high-tech research and scientific projects will think of sharing their expertise and knowledge with the country of their origin or birth.

But the diaspora from the world of academia and research finds the atmosphere in India discouraging. India has to work out a policy that can lure such overseas Indians. That at the moment does not seem to be part of the government’s agenda.

Most of the super rich Indians prefer to invest their money either in the country where they live or in tax havens. India is rarely their first choice for parking or investing their surplus funds because of many reasons—red tape, corruption, the ‘unease’ of doing business in India and, perhaps above all, the poor infrastructure.

In simple words, foreign funds, whether from the pockets of Indians or foreigners, will flow into the country in small quantities as long conditions do not become more helpful for investment and independent research. The government has done well to merge the People of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of Indian (OCI) schemes that will make it easier for the diaspora to visit and stay in India. But that is not the only issue that most Indian citizens abroad face.

In the Gulf region it is their exploitation by unscrupulous agents who recruit them and send them abroad to employers who ruin their lives by cheating and ill-treating them at every stage. The government of India has in recent years shown some concern about the issue, but it is still to be resolved entirely. Some might wonder if the delay in addressing the problems of this section of overseas Indians is due to the fact that they are not really the moneybags who will be welcomed with open arms at glittering functions like the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’.

Then there is also what might be called a ‘political’ problem that sometimes hits the diaspora. In 1987, a military coup in Fiji, led by Lt.-Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, saw the government headed by Mahendra Choudhary, originally from Haryana, thrown out for no reason at all other than the fact that the government was not headed by a native Fijian. The coup was followed by a large-scale migration of ethnic Indians in Fiji, mostly to Australia and New Zealand. Not many wanted to return to their ‘motherland’, despite deep cultural, religious and family ties with India.

It is believed that the expulsion of Indians in Fiji in 1987 led the government of India to seriously think of the Indian diaspora and chalk out a policy for them to safeguard their safety and interests.

In the early 1970s, Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, had ordered nearly all ethnic Indians out of his country, virtually without sufficient advance notice. At that time many Indians wanted to return to India but the country was not in a position to accept them all. They then chose to migrate to the UK, USA and Canada where most of them attained a level of prosperity that might not have been possible in India.

God forbid, if something similar happens again will the government of India be able to extend its hospitality to them? Doubtful! The general impression within the country is that India looks at the size of pockets of its OCIs and PIOs to decide what kind of welcome they will be given.

This impression is formed by the treatment of the minorities (mainly Hindus) who came to India from Pakistan and Afghanistan because they did not feel safe in their country where they had lived for centuries. Most of them are virtually stateless persons languishing in poorly maintained camps where succour comes to them from voluntary organisations, not government of India.

Other neighbouring countries from where people of Indian origin have come to India in large numbers include Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka have found hospitality in Tamil Nadu but there is no clarity about their legal status. The refugees from Myanmar have a problem of another kind. Most of them are Muslims and a BJP-led government might not extend the kind of help they expect.

(Syndicate Features)

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