Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel’s New Year Gift

Children of Heaven: How precise is Israel's "precision" bombing? (Photo Courtesy: Khalil Hamra / Associated Press)

Israel, the world’s only country with no internationally-declared borders, has begun the deadly dance of death and destruction in Gaza city which is located in 1.5 million strong Gaza strip, the world’s most densely populated area. As Israel prepares for a long haul with tanks massed along the Gaza after the aerial strikes, the official silence of Egypt and Jordan has resulted in mental agony for the hapless Palestinians. Palestinians have been betrayed not only by Israel alone but by their “own” people. This fact can be gauged from Egyptian government’s decision to seal its border along the Gaza strip at Rafah Crossing thus aggravating the humanitarian crisis fuelled by a country whose does not believe in human rights. Israel is the only country in the world which has violated the maximum number of United Nations’ resolutions since it came into existence in November 1948 with the help of a United Nation’s resolution! Israel’s history of complete disregard to human rights and international law will put any human being to shame. Five years ago, Rachel Corrie, an American human rights activist with International Solidarity Movement was crushed to death by an armoured Israeli bulldozer as she was protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza strip. The current situation was propelled by an economic blockade by Israel two months ago as a response to what it says “rocket and mortar fire” by Hamas, the ruling militant organization in Gaza strip. An Egyptian-brokered peace truce between Israel and Hamas was broken ten days ago. This situation was exploited by Israel to intensify an already existent economic blockade thus making ordinary life miserable. Just a day before the Israeli offensive, Rami Almeghari, a lecturer of Islamic University of Gaza could not find bread in Gaza! An empty stomach has a right not only to hunger but anger as well. It is in this context that Hamas rocket attack into Southern Israel must be interpreted. BBC reported on November 13 that “Gaza may be without United Nations food aid from November 15 after Israel has refused to allow in emergency supplies.” The Israeli blockade was not merely economic but academic as well. 27-year old Belal Bedwan, a resident of Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Central Gaza told BBC that he had twice missed the chance to study abroad since he was not allowed to move out of Gaza although he had got admission in Malaysian University as late as July 2008! “The Israelis stopped me leaving Erez in the north and the Egyptians stopped me at Rafah in the south,” he had told BBC. A Palestinian noise is never heard through voice. Al-Qassam rockets are the only means to draw the world’s attention. Shifa hospital, where most of the injured are being treated does not have adequate medical wares. Laila El-Haddad, a Gaza-based journalist wrote that medical supplies like face masks, surgical gloves, gowns etc. are in short supply. She wrote that the heading in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz ‘Over 50 targets by 60 warplanes’ sounds like a “movie tagline or a game.” She sarcastically termed the Israeli offensive as “Neatly packaged war in a gift-box.” Among 300 dead bodies, there are at least 20 children. Perhaps this war is the Jewish states’ New Year gift to a Palestinian mother. Israeli has lost one war against Lebanon’s Hezbullah in 2006. Israel will lose this war against democratically-elected Hamas again because the days of age-old saying ‘Might is right’ are dead. Israel may win this battle but it will lose the war. An increasing number of non-Muslims are raising their voice against the Israeli barbarism. An American Christian had this to say in a letter to a Palestinian:
I apologize for what is happening to your people and your family. I wish the U.S. were coming out more strongly in condemnation of the Israeli violent actions. I have called the U.S. Secretary of State office and expressed my concern and my desire that the U.S. more strongly condemn today’s Israeli actions. I sent an email of condemnation to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. I also sent an email to the American Jewish Committee, and expressed very strongly my disapproval of that organization's statement today in support of the Israeli action.
With the ongoing global recession the downfall of Israel’s biggest ally has already begun. Empires don’t fall overnight; first comes the decline and then fall. The Mughal Empire’s decline began after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. But the fall came 150 years later in 1857. At present America is sinking in a sea of debt. Afghanistan and Iraq wars have severely wounded the backbone of America’s economy.
Israel is heading the same path of destruction. It is digging its own grave.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

26/11 and Urdu press

Muslims kids participate in an anti-terror rally
Contrary to the popular myth that the Urdu press is a monolithic entity, it represents a diverse range of issues, opinions, points and counter-points. The tragedy of 26/11 proved to be a litmus test. On a careful analysis, it becomes abundantly clear that Urdu press accommodated views that could not find space even in the mainstream media. It is altogether a different debate whether the issues raised were right or wrong. It is in the intrinsic nature of good journalism to accommodate all kinds of views.

Urdu newspapers were the first to denounce the terrorists that struck Mumbai on the fateful night of November 26. The very next day, most Urdu newspapers carried front-page editorials. Leading Mumbai daily Inquilab carried a small piece titled, 'Who are these beasts? Let's defeat them together'. And, 'Who are these smiling faces that have deserted Mumbai' was the title of a front-page piece in Urdu Times. Delhi-based weekly Jadeed Markaz had a simple and self-evident headline: 'Pakistani terrorists attack India'.

Some newspapers demanded accountability from the government and politicians while others were against the political bashing. Inquilab came down heavily on politicians especially over "the politics of dead bodies". "It is time," it said, "that people question the establishment as to why our security is so weak. Why are we so helpless against terrorists? What is our policy against terrorists?" It blasted politicians for wagging their tongues. "For God's sake, hold your tongue," it warned, "We are not desperate to hear your statements but rather we want some concrete action." Rashtriya Sahara too criticised politicians. "In this tough battle our brave soldiers sacrificed their lives but yet the behaviour of political class has shamed us that even in worst times, politicians can't unite."

Jadeed Markaz said that the trend to abuse the present system is very dangerous. "It is not a good omen for the country's democratic system," it cautioned. "This environment against the politicians," it said, "has been created by people belonging to big corporate houses, those who frequent night clubs and expensive hotels, those who call themselves as 'elite'… There was no Preity Zinta to light candles at Cama hospital and CST because those died there obviously did not belong to the elite club."

The peace march at the Gateway of India and later at CST was given prominent coverage and like its English counterpart the Urdu press was overtly nationalist. Inquilab ran a front-page headline, 'Announcement of war against politicians and establishment'.

It beautifully captured the mood of the people by reproducing the slogans of the day.

Urdu Times had a similar headline. The peace march by Muslims was also highlighted particularly the placards which read, 'Pakistan be declared a terrorist state'.

Hemant Karkare was not only given a hero's farewell but his death has been widely speculated. A section of the Urdu press has advocated the theory floating on the net that he was killed by Sangh Parivar and Mossad for his exposé of the Malegaon bomb blast!

Rashtriya Sahara carried a series of pieces on the conspiracy theory. One read, "If the questions being raised, circumstances and incidents indicate that this is a cooked up story then the reader's decision will prevail." Jadeed Markaz is also sceptical. "It can't be said that attackers of Hemant Karkare belong to Sangh Parivar but it is quite possible that any mad man could have attacked him as a result of the recent provocations by Sangh leaders." Urdu Times ran articles by Amaresh Mishra, a known Sangh Parivar critic, who believes in RSS-Mossad conspiracy theory! "The alliance has gone out of control," he wrote.

Inquilab stayed away from these conspiracy theories but pointed out some loopholes in the official version. It carried a reference report which says the terrorists who killed Karkare were speaking Marathi. "These terrible events leave innumerable questions; out of which many questions will never be answered. The same thing happened with 9/11." The paper urges Muslims to act rather than be a "mute spectator". "It's time for action and to become part of the system. For how long we will stick to our glorious past? Saazish kay muqabley mein kavish hi kaam aa sakti hai. (Hard work and striving can be more fruitful than a conspiracy)." It severely criticised AR Antulay's observation that Karkare was not killed by the terrorists.

26/11 has evolved Urdu journalism: this was the first time that leading newspapers devoted many special pages to a tragedy. News was not just covered from the 'Muslim point of view' as is widely believed, but from the human angle as well. This can be gauged from the fact that none of them highlighted or sensationalised the fact that almost 40 per cent of the terror victims were Muslims.
Sunday DNA, December 21, 2008

Malegaon blast probe is still the issue

Malegaon blast victim still await justice. Will Mr. Raghuvanshi oblige?

The world's largest democracy is going through one of the most critical phases of its 61-year old life. We should call it India's mid-life crisis; a period of dramatic self-doubt where one tragedy is being matched or answered by a greater tragedy. It seems that competition – one of the main features of marketing – has begun to apply even in the gory field of terrorism. We are being pushed into the dirty pit of terrorism in a cyclical motion. Terrorism has begun to apply the rules of communication. Communication is a two-way process. Terrorism is increasingly following in the footsteps of communication; where 'our terror' is being answered by 'their terror' or vice versa. This phenomenon is alternatively known as 'tit-for-tat terrorism.' It is in this framework that Malegaon September 2008 blast must be looked into.

The Malegaon blast probe which made headlines all across the world was earth-shattering. Before the probe could completely unearth all the faces involved in the blast; another terror storm rocked the nation's psyche and Malegaon probe was suddenly put on hold. The worst aspect of 26/11 may be that it consumed the faces involved in Malegaon blast probe but Malegaon can not be put on the back burner. The shocking revelations of Malegaon blast can not be easily erased from peoples' memories; be it Hindu or Muslim. 26/11 may have overshadowed Malegaon, but it can never be forgotten because it has now been associated with the Mumbai carnage.

Does that sound strange that Malegaon probe has been associated with 26/11?

No. The two fateful events had one similar character: ATS chief Hemant Karkare. And whenever, people would recall 26/11, they will surely remember Hemant Karkare. And the name Hemant Karkare has become synonymous with Malegaon blast probe. There emerges a triangle whose dots will always be connected to each other.

Hemant Karkare's loss has proved to be a severe blow to the Malegaon investigation. The main character of the script is no more. Can a script be completed without the main character? It might be possible that a film can never be sustained with the death of its protagonist but in real life things are different. Karkare has left behind footprints on the sand. Now it is the job of the directors (read politicians) to guide the new actor (read K.P. Raghuvanshi); to make sure that he follows the footprints left by his predecessor.

The new actor must remember that footprints on sand don't last long.

The director (Ashok Chavan), his assistant (Chagun Bhujbhal) and the new actor know and understand that Malegaon script has already been drafted. The new players just need to complete the script. Any change or delay in the completion of the script will be detrimental. Audiences are desperately waiting to witness the climax of the story.

The people of Malegaon are not very happy with the track record of K.P. Raghuvanshi; he was the ATS chief when September 8, 2006 blasts took place. But still, we have no grudge against him; our readers will recall that Nanded blast was being investigated by Mr. Raghuvanshi himself. The ATS investigation in Nanded blast was far better than the investigation carried by CBI later. In fact, Mr. Raghuvanshi should be given a free hand to complete the Malegaon probe as early as possible.

With Karkare's departure, the once media-savvy ATS has suddenly become media-shy. People of Malegaon want ATS chief to assert himself in order to restore the faith of the people. He has not made any remark or addressed a single press conference on the issue of Malegaon probe till now. His long silence is open to misinterpretation. He must speak up his mind in order to put rumour mills to sleep.

It's your turn to speak up, Mr. Raghuvanshi!

Will you please oblige?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

MCOCA and Malegaon blast accused

Advocates of Mobocracy: Members of Hindu Rashtriya Sena protest outside a Nasik court where the accused were produced on November 15.

The ongoing twist-and-turn in the investigation of the Malegaon bomb blast of September 29 is stranger than a John Grisham novel. At this point of time, it may be difficult to say with certainty in which direction the investigation will lead to, but there are enough inputs and indicators to make an assessment.

Going by the various media reports, it seems that Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) has got nothing incriminating against the accused so far; the kind of evidence that will stand in a court of law. As one report in Hindustan Times says,

The hard evidence in the form of materials used in making and planting of the bomb, witnesses and other corroborative and supporting evidence is still missing.
The ATS has reportedly seized arms, cell phones, electronic timers, pen drive, telephone diary and some documents from the accused. The latest arrest of priest Dayanand Pandey makes the case murkier and high-profile as he had some "political contacts." Pandey has reportedly changed his number 4 times in the last 20 days. None of this is incriminating in law unless it is proved that the above mentioned items were used in the blast.

Narco test or truth serum as it is known is not a scientifically-proved and legally-approved method of investigation. Also narco tests are not fool-proof. A person of a military background like Lt. Col. Purohit can easily mislead the investigators. There is no guarantee that a person will only speak the truth in a so-called 'truth serum' test. Also evidence extracted under the test is not admissible in court.

The sincerity of any investigating agency should not be measured on the basis of leaks it willingly provides to the media but its approach in the application of law on the accused. All the accused arrested so far have been booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and several sections of the Explosives Act. A careful reading of these statutes will reveal that one can easily get bail under these Acts. On the contrary, it is very difficult to get bail in Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).

In MCOCA, confessional statement of the accused is considered as "substantive evidence" and it is enough to punish the accused. In IPC and other statutes confessional statement is not considered "substantive evidence." I am not a great admirer of the draconian MCOCA but still one wonders why the ATS is not imposing MCOCA on the Malegaon bomb blast accused as it had done in the earlier blast of 2006.

To impose MCOCA, there should be at least one previous criminal chargesheet against the accused. Jagdish Mhatra, who was arrested from Dombivali in Mumbai, fulfills this legal requirement since a criminal chargesheet had been filed against him in a case of murder and extortion in 1996-97. One previous criminal chargesheet against any of the accused is enough to bring all the accused under the ambit of MCOCA.

Despite this, ATS is still "considering" and yet to apply MCOCA on the Malegaon blast accused. The same ATS had applied MCOCA on the 2006 blast accused immediately. People of Malegaon are curious to find out why this time the ATS is delaying the implementation of MCOCA.

The ATS claims to have 400 minutes of taped-conversation between Sadhvi and Ramji, the alleged bomb-planter. In a recent judgement, Supreme Court has categorically stated that the taped-conversation is admissible under MCOCA. In simple words it means the ATS can easily convict the accused on the basis of the taped-conversation if they choose to apply MCOCA.

Isn't it good news for the ATS? Why delay then?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Singh a Song

The New Face of Saffron Terror: Will Sadhvi sing?

One does not know whether Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, September 29 Malegaon bomb blast accused, did 'sing' or she is made to sing but Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already chosen to sing a song. The singer is none other than a Singh who firmly believes that his ability to sing a song of 'cultural nationalism' will save his party. "Those who believe in cultural nationalism," said Rajnath Ram Singh, BJP president, referring to Sadhvi "cannot ever take to terror."
One does not understand Singh's definition of 'cultural nationalism' but he has been an inconsistent president of a party which claims to be truly "nationalistic." Is he the same Singh who sung the "terrorist" song immediately after the so-called 'encounter' at Batla House? Why did he sing a different song after the arrest of Sadhvi? Is it because of the difference in religious affiliation of those who were killed at Batla House? Or did 'acquaintance' prompt him to defend Sadhvi? The widely-circulated picture of Singh with Sadhvi does not incriminate him but as we say in journalism: A picture speaks a thousand words.
One must note that like the accused of the Batla house, Sadhvi remains an accused and not a "terrorist." A terrorist tag can only be accorded by a court of law.
Sadhvi has created so much confusion within the BJP. Initially, BJP disowned her when it was revealed that she was once a part of its student-wing, Akhil Bharthiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). BJP changed its official policy the moment Uma Bharati joined the strange enigma of Sadhvi. Uma Bharati was merely a political trap; Singh easily succumbed to it. After all, Singh and Bharati share the same saffron soul with varying degrees.
BJP's state of no-acceptance no-rejection of Sadhvi makes its case ambivalent.
A president of a nationalist political party should always stick to one song on a one theme no matter whoever may be the target audience.
BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad thought Singh's song was not enough and decided to write the whole script. His utterance was a good example of hysteria's triumph over common sense. "Why this lead (the alleged involvement of Students Islamic Movement of India in Malegaon 2006 cemetery blast) has not been followed in the 2008 blast?" Prasad asked.
Mr. Ravi Shankar should at least know that the motorcycle used in the blast was registered in the name of Sadhvi.
L.K. Advani, who has responded cautiously to Sadhvi episode, must take notice of his party's official ignorance.
Meanwhile the response of the saffron Hindutva groups has been highly intolerant. The rabid display of the 'majoritarian nationalism' or to put it more precisely 'mobocracy' went unnoticed in the mainstream media. Thousands of the saffron souls protested outside a Nasik court on November 3 where the accused were brought for the trial. They carried placards, chanted highly provocative slogans and openly defended Sadhvi and other army men allegedly involved in the Malegaon blast.
India, being a civilised democracy, gives a right to defend an accused. I am glad that Indian Muslims have never ever done such a protest outside a court. Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, did not witness any such protest when Bali bomb blasts' Muslim bombers were executed on the order of the country's highest court.
Nathuram Godse is dead but his legacy of hatred still thrives on. Himani Savarkar, Godse's niece and president of Abhinav Bharat – the organization allegedly behind the Malegaon blast – has advocated an eye for an eye theory. "If we can have bullet for bullet, why not blast for blast?" she has asked. She has even advocated that Indian Muslims should go and find a Muslim country to live!
Post-Independent India was infected with caste and communal riots. Now the bomb blast is an easy and alternative way to infect the body of India. It has begun to bleed with sickening regularity. Do we Indians realise that the war is no longer across the border? It is being fought within. China and Pakistan are not our biggest enemies. Our biggest enemies are fellow Indians who are striking at will wearing the cloak of anonymity.
Sadhvi episode has highlighted one crucial fact in Indian context: Terrorism is not a Muslim specialty. The bomb blasts in mosques in the Marathwada region (Nanded, Parbhani, Purna, Jalna etc.) were indeed carried out by Hindutva fanatics but government and intelligence agencies ignored it lest they antagonise the majority community. Army men's involvement in the Malegaon blast should not come as a surprise. Our intelligence agencies do have people who share the right-wing ideology. Those who have followed the Nanded 2006 blast will agree that the role of India's Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been highly controversial and biased.
Initially ATS suspected that SIMI was the behind the Malegaon blast. The ATS knew it from the day one that the killer motorcycle belonged to Sadhvi but yet they continued their combing operations in Muslim areas of Malegaon! The sudden 'right-turn' in the investigation was a result of Muslim resentment across the state of Maharashtra. Dozens of Muslim corporators belonging to Congress-NCP had sent their resignations directly to chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and home miniter R.R. Patil.
With elections round the corner, a dual-theory is being propagated by political pundits. Batla encounter was carried out to pacify Hindus and Malegaon arrests were made to "appease" the Muslims! Congress is being accused of playing a dual game.
A murmur has begun to develop in Muslim mohallas that Congress is indulging in a psychological war of perception management. Is Congress playing a game with Muslim sub-consciousness? We can't say with certainty. But at the same time it can't be ruled out. There is at least one reason to suspect. ATS is yet to apply the draconian MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) although they have slapped it on Malegaon blast accused of 2006. It is still being "considered."
Quite a Muslim question: Are there two set of different laws for two different communities? That's a question which Vilasrao Deshmukh needs to answer.
The Muslim vote will depend upon his answer and not mere lip-service as his government has been doing for the last 9 years. Sri Krishna Commission report is just the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg of genuine Muslim issues may sink Vilasrao's political boat.
This time 'nine days wonder' trick will not save Congress-NCP government.
A question worth-debating: Can Muslims of Maharashtra sing a different song?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Institutionalised Bias?

L.K. Advani with security guards (file photo)
The last-minute removal of two Muslim policemen from the security duty of BJP leader L.K. Advani who visited Khozhikode on Tuesday has elicited strong reactions from some political parties and prominent Muslims.
Muslims have alleged "religious discrimination" by National Security Guard (NSG) which was the in charge of the security arrangements at the helipad in Khozhikode. The Muslim policemen, who had undergone special training for VIP duty, were deputed to be part of Advani's motorcade. At Khozhikode, NSG officials sought the list of police personnel on duty. After scrutinising the list two Muslim policemen were dropped from the motorcade without assigning any reason.
"This is an insult to the secular face of the state. Both policemen had participated in the training sessions for VIP visit. But last minute, they were removed on religious grounds. That should not have happened in Kerala," Indian Union Muslim League state general secretary P K Kunhalikutty said.
Following protests from the Indian Union Muslim League, the Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has ordered the probe.
The Kozhikode City Police Commissioner Anup Kuruvilla John has denied that the exclusion was on religious grounds as altogether six drivers had been dropped in the final round.
"A total of 12 police drivers were chosen for the motorcade, comprising six vehicles during the trial run. Six drivers were dropped which included non-Muslims also. Only that out of the six, two happened to be from the minority community," he said.
His claim is hotly contested by many.
Yoginder Sikand, author of many books on Muslim issues, has termed this incident as part of anti-Muslim agenda. "It only shows how pervasive and widespread anti-Muslim prejudice, stoked by Hindutva terrorists has become," he told Qaum.
Nigar Ataullah, associate editor of Banglore-based Islamic Voice says that these kinds of incidents tarnish the image of Muslim community. "Acts like these all add up to produce a wrong image of Muslims," she said.
Seema Mustafa, senior journalist and editor of Covert magazine says that the same thing happened to Sikhs 1980s. She is concerned about the growing intolerance and rising Islamophobia. "Sikhs were not allowed to be inside Asian Games taking place at that time. Muslims feel victimised because of the growing Islamophobia. Muslims are made to feel as 'others'," she said.
She blamed M.K. Narayanan, NSA (National Security Advisor) for the goof-up.
"National Security Advisor owes an answer not to the Muslims but to the country," she insisted.
Senior writer Mustafa Khan feels that this incident puts a question mark on the loyalty of Muslims. "The removal of the two Muslim cops shows that the right-wing leaders do not think that Muslims are loyal. Moreover they are abysmally low in their opinion about the minorities," he said.
Anti-Muslim bias of the security agencies is a well-known fact. India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has diagnosed this disease very early. Not many would know that Nehru was asked by IB (Intelligence Bureau) to remove Muslim cooks from his kitchen because of the angers of Partition. He categorically refused saying there is no question of it. His daughter Indira Gandhi did the same. She refused to suspect all the Sikhs after Operation Bluestar.
The grandson of noted parliamentarian Humayun Kaqbir was denied entry into RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), India's external intelligence agency because of his religion. There is an unwritten code which does not allow Muslims to become part of the premier intelligence agencies.
Nazia Erum, a Delhi-based journalist feels that Muslims are caught in the no man's land. "Very often Muslims are blamed not to be part of the national mainstream. And when we try to become part of the so-called 'mainstream' we are often pushed back to our ghetto," she told Qaum. "The idea of a pluralistic India is under threat from those who are supposed to be law-keepers," she remarked.
Qaum - Inquilab, October 18, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Police added to Malegaon Terror

Covert copy: Scanned version of the original piece

Mohammed Ishaque, 20, was sipping tea at Nisar Diary in Bhikku Chowk when a crude bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded, killing five and injuring at least 89. "It was as devastating as lightening," recalls Ishaque lying on a bed in Noor hospital. He suffered serious leg injuries.

The killer bike was parked outside Shakeel Goods Transport, barely 10 metres from Daregaon Police Chowki. Abdullah Ansari, the 75-year-old owner of Shakeel Goods, had instructed Iqbal, a waiter from Nisar Diary, to tell the police about the unattended bike. "The police was informed at 8.20 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes before the blast, but they failed to act," Ansari told Covert, pointing to his watch which had stopped at 9.35 p.m. Ansari is in hospital with head injuries.

Muslims of the area gathered, aggrieved about the police's failure to act. People were also angry that the police then attributed the blast to a gas cylinder burst. The mob attacked the police chowki; so the police responded with a lathicharge and finally resorted to firing the bullets to disperse people. About 35 policemen have been injured, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Virish Prabhu (IPS), whose condition is now stable.

Eyewitnesses said at least two persons were killed and 22 injured in the police firing. Maharashtra Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil told Covert, "Nobody died in the police firing, Police fired 58 rounds in the air so no one was injured."

This claim is hotly contested at Malegaon. Shoaib Ansari, editor of Urdu weekly Zaban-e-Khalk pulled up his sleeve to show a bullet injury on his right arm. "I had gone there to cover the incident. The bullet grazed me on the right arm," he said.

Nadeem Ahmed, a 17-year-old labourer passing by Bhikku Chowk, was hit by a bullet just below his kneecap. "I was not part of the mob. I was going to work at the powerloom factory when the police bullet hit me from behind," he told Covert. The attending doctor, Dr V.P. Vaidya, confirmed that Nadeem was hit by a police bullet. "The police wanted the recovered bullet but I have refused. I can't hand it over unless there is a Panchnama," he said.

A young man named Mushtaque Ahmed is also believed to have been killed in the firing. "My son was martyred in the police firing," his father Yusuf told Covert. Dr Saeed Farani of Faran hospital, where most of the injured were brought, is more hesitant. "I think at least three of the injured have bullet wounds. But I can't say with certainty since we have not recovered any bullets," he said.

The motorbike was traced to Eknath Pingle, a lab assistant in Panchavati College, Nasik. Pingle told the police he had sold it in 2002 to a dealer in second-hand vehicles. The second-hand dealer confirmed the purchase, but could not provide any information about the buyer.

Sanjeev Dayal, Additional Director General of Police (State Law and Order), has ruled out the involvement of the Indian Mujahideen in the blast at Malegaon because there were no similarities either in the mode or in the execution of the blast. He added that radical Hindu groups were also under the scanner.

The police is said to have detained at least six persons from neighbouring Chalisgaon and Malegaon, but Nasik SP (Rural) Nikhil Gupta denied this. Combing operations have been carried out at Jaffer Nagar, Golden Nagar and Naya Bazaar. The people are terrified of large-scale arrests. Mustafa Khan, a resident of Jaffer Nagar, pointed out, "Nothing will happen. Only the innocent will be harassed and victimised".

COVERT, October 15 - October 31, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Malegaon Bomb Blast: The Smell of Blood is Still in My Head

Azmi Farzan: The youngest victim of Malegaon bomb blast

The deadly bomb blast which ripped apart the bodies of believers on September 29 has left a deep scar on the psyche of the town. Without losing any time, I was at Bhikku chowk, the epicentre of the blast, which resembled more like a battlefield than an ordinary chowk in a Muslim neighbourhood. The members of leaderless Muslim community were busy helping the injured in their own individual way. A few emotional Muslims protested against the police claim that it was a cylinder blast. It hurts me deeply that a stone-pelting incident can alter the destiny of my community. Clashes between Muslims and Police followed. Police first-lathi-charged and then opened fire. People fell like a pack of cards.

From Bhikku chowk I rushed towards Noor hospital like a madman searching for sanity. Police bullets seem to have an ingrained bias against Muslims. Bullets chase Muslims till death. As I entered the hospital to inquire about the injured, I could hear the gunshots being fired outside (in Mushawerat chowk). With each shot, I trembled with rage and fear. Each shot increased my heartbeats. The palpitation was so seismic that I feared that my heart would jump out and leave me dead. On one hand Dr. Saeed Faizee, Dr. Sohail and Dr. Faisal continuously worked to restore the faith of Muslim community, outside the naked dance of official bias was at play. Where was the humanity of the people?

The scene at Faran hospital – where the majority of the injured (58) were brought – was chaotic. Curios onlookers and some family members of the injured were caught in the mêlée outside the Faran hospital. As I entered the hospital the smell of fresh blood became unbearable. It is still in my head. The injured were being treated by Dr. Saeed Farani and his dedicated team of doctors. The entire hospital was in collective mourning. The cry of a toddler will haunt me for the rest of my life. It could have been my nephew or anybody else’s. A bared burnt back of a bearded old man almost brought me to the brink of cry. But then the call of my métier restrained me. I made sure that tears didn’t spill out of my eyes. In the operation theatre, I saw an open surgery being performed on one of the injured. The ruptured veins of his left foot were a terrible sight to behold. I could stop there while beholding the sanguine scene or gently pass out. The sight of the three dead bodies neatly lined one after another froze my soul. I felt as if I was in the awesome presence of death. As I clicked their pictures, a thought crossed my mind: Is it fair for a journalist to take pictures of the victims mowed down by flying balls, nails and bullets? It was a call of the conscience. In the spilt of a second, I decided to go ahead. I thought I was Muslim as well as a journalist. The job of a journalist is not to write but to communicate. The Muslim in me thought that I must communicate to the world that my own community has been hit in its own backyard. Not once, but twice.

When the guns fell silent, I returned to Bhikku chowk at 3am. Uninformed media persons were orchestrating the official line that the bomb blast site is below the building where Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) once had its office. But nobody bothered to say that the bomb blast site is rather in front of a Police chowky as well. These are matters of perception.

Why was Bhikku chowk chosen for the blast site? Bhikku chowk represents a strong Muslim identity where Muslims from all diverse sects and walks of life gather for a cup of tea or socializing after traweeh prayers in Ramadan. The attack was on Muslim identity. Why can’t the security agencies accept that there is in essence a turf-war going on between communalists of different faiths in the form of bomb blasts? It is unfortunate that in this war Police often seem to be on the side of the majority community. It is a bitter truth albeit uncomfortable.

Next day, home minister RR Patil uttered the usual platitude of repeated bombings of recent past. “It was an attack on national integration.” I am sorry, Mr. Patil. Bhikku chowk is not the place for bridging the gulf that has divided two communities. It is a traditional Muslim ghetto. The attack was on Malegaon’s Muslim identity and not on national integration. There were eyebrows raised when I bluntly asked him ‘How many people have died in the police firing.’ He paused for a moment; Nikhil Gupta, Nasik SP, bent and whispered something. “Nobody has died in the police firing. Police had fired 58 rounds in the air so no one was injured,” Patil claimed. This goes against the public perception and a doctor’s claim in Malegaon. According to Dr. Saeed Farani at least 3 persons have been injured in the police firing. The actual figure is obviously higher but nobody is willing to say because the town is reeling under fear.

Each Muslim mother in Malegaon is praying lest her son becomes a “suspect.”

Things will never be the same in this forsaken corner of Maharashtra but this much is certain: Indian Muslims will not allow India to become another Pakistan.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Media, Muslims and Mujahideen

A bomb does not discriminate between a Hindu or a Muslim (File Photo)

Now that the Delhi Police has “cracked” the bomb blasts, I can make my own confessions. Suspicion is not a fundamental right enshrined in Indian Constitution but it is an unalienable right in a flourishing democracy. Suspicion is the fundamental premise on which the edifice of our intelligentsia stands. Therefore, intelligence agencies cannot be denied the right to suspect. The same right to suspect cannot be denied to ordinary Indians. Equality is the hallmark of a true democracy.

The journalist in me has a problem when an official declaration, a chronological monologue, is treated as the gospel. It is not the job of a journalist to arrive at conclusions. The job of a journalist is to stand outside the circle and communicate nuances and niceties taking place inside the circle. When a journalist jumps into the circle, he becomes part of the story. Proximity breeds bias. Bias breeds bigotry. A true journalist can be anything but he can never be a bigot.

Journalistic bigotry is dangerous for it plays a vital role in shaping public opinion. Each such story leaves an imprint on public consciousness. In each blast, media, the fourth estate, behaves like fourth mistake. The needle of suspicion automatically swings towards Muslims whether it is Mecca Masjid blast or Malegaon blasts in which devout Muslims were specifically targeted inside their mosques. Every time there is a blast, Muslims find themselves in the no man's land. They are caught in the crossfire between intelligence agencies and terrorists. Neither of them will trust Muslims. The day-today Muslim problem is bread and butter rather than the bomb.

Each blast is viewed from the green lens of Islam although saffron lens is equally making India red. One of the reasons for these blasts is to put the entire Muslim community in the defensive mode by systematically manipulating Islam. The trick is like a psychological warfare before the beginning of actual war.

It is true that a minuscule minority among Muslims has become radical. It is equally true that a minuscule minority among Hindus has gone on the extreme. SIMI, RSS and Bajrang Dal, are competing identities, each one claiming to represent their respective community. It is competitive extremism at work which can be summed up in one-line: My version of extremism is better than yours! Media plays safe when RSS and Bajrang Dal are involved in bomb blasts while it indulges in triumphant journalism when SIMI comes under the scanner. The reason for this differential approach is commercial: No businessman would want to antagonize the majority Hindu readers. Media, therefore, claims to be nationalistic but it only practices majoritarian nationalism.

From a journalistic point of view, I have a problem when Police changes the names of ‘alleged’ (it is one adjective which we in the media have abused and used at will) masterminds overnight. First it was Abdus Subhan Qureishi (alias Tauqeer), now it is Atif, the “terrorist” who has been gunned down.

The journalist in me finds it hard to digest that Mufti Abul Bashar, the alleged mastermind of Ahmedabad blasts, is linked to Delhi blasts. If Bashar is really connected to Delhi blasts, the bomb blasts should never have taken place since he was in police custody when the blasts took place. How can Bashar, a poor madrasa-educated person mastermind Ahmedabad blast with such precision? When did Indian Madrasas start producing tech-savvy Muslims? Indian government would love that to happen! There won’t be any need for Central madrasa board for modernization then!

Police says that the educated Muslims are involved in the blasts yet they arrest who will not be termed ‘educated’ by worldly standards. Mufti Bashar is just one example. A section of the mainstream media is extremely behaving like the nautch girl of Indian intelligent agencies. Instead of investigating the police claims, media is promoting self-contradictory journalism.

The journalist in me has a problem when a TV correspondent spits out the intelligence feed that there was a meeting of SIMI in 2001 where 200 youth were recruited to wreak havoc across India. What was our intelligence agency doing for the last 8 years?

Muslim accused are being branded as terrorists before the proper investigation and filing of the chargesheet. The actual trial by a court of law is yet to begin but the trial by media has already passed its judgement. Sample this:

“Mohammed Saif, the terrorist (emphasis added) who was arrested after Friday’s encounter, even possessed a fake voter card.” (TOI, September 21, page 1, Delhi edition)

Isn’t it a perfect example of Judgemental journalism?

Meanwhile Muslims live under siege and fear. State, said Mahatma Gandhi, is nothing but organized violence. Friday’s encounter of Jamia Nagar in Delhi raises some disturbing questions. Local Muslims have termed it as “dubious.” They have reasons to believe so. As a Delhi friend put it, “No one saw cross firing yesterday. Only the police claim it happened. Did you read in any report that anyone actually saw cross-firing?” She added, “How come the two so-called terrorists managed to flee? There was only one exit.” She asked, “If they knew they were going for a possible encounter, why wasn’t the building or the area properly covered by the police?”

Her conclusion was chilling and disturbed me:

“But the point is that they can kill anyone anywhere. Tomorrow my brother might be the target and on flimsiest of grounds with no chance of proving the innocence. You are guilty just because they say so.”

“It makes me bloody angry.”

Indian Muslims live with fear, security, discrimination and terror tag. A bunch of the so-called ‘Muslims’ have hijacked their Faith. I detest when somebody says those who planted the bombs were Muslims. Indian Mujahideen, a faceless body, has launched a faceless jihad for the sake of Indian Muslims. A true jihad can never be faceless. If one peers through Islamic history, he will come to know that a jihad is a battle which is fought under the banner of recognition and not anonymity.

I see a problem when a country of more than one billion people can’t arrest a loose bunch of murderers who want to convert India into a slaughterhouse.

Indian intelligence agencies have some much input yet they produce zero output.

India’s 160 million Muslims have a problem: fear. And nobody is willing to even listen to them. They are the in-betweens of India’s fight against terrorism. They want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. India needs to integrate them. A Muslim friend put it bluntly, “Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’ no longer adorns my wall.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Raj with No Reason

Raj Thackeray: Emergence of an Indian Raj!

The worst way to reason is to have no reason. There may be reasons not to have a reason. No reason is a good way to keep people guessing the reason. If you have the reason, you can’t actually fool people not to know the reason. The reason has to be real and not imaginary.

Raj Thackeray, the nefarious nephew of Bal Thackeray, has been on rampage citing a single reason: imagined insult to Marathi language. Does speaking Hindi or any other language in the state of Maharashtra belittle Marathi? Jaya Bachchan’s unintentional utterance that ‘she will speak Hindi because she is from Uttar Pradesh’ did not go well with Raj although Jaya had apologized right there to the people of Maharashtra for not speaking in Marathi. Is Hindi, our national language, a threat to Marathi, Maharashtra’s official language? Can’t Hindi and Marathi co-exist in Maharashtra? Language should promote harmony and not hatred.

Raj must salute India’s tolerant democracy that allows him to indulge in lingual terrorism. Raj believes in lingual hegemony of aggression. He portrays himself as a messiah of Marathi language and Marathi manoos (Marathi population). Will his intolerant attitude towards Hindi promote Marathi? Aggression does not promote a language. It degrades the language and covers it with the dirt of exclusivity. If Raj sincerely wants to promote Marathi, he should rebrand his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as Multi-National Sena!

He is using his mother-tongue to flex his political muscle and put himself on the state’s political radar. Politics is the art of the impossible and Raj is very keen to master that ‘art’ even if he has to coin his own slogan of regionalism which is an antithesis to the very idea of Indian nationalism.

Raj’s theatrics began with the formation of MNS when he felt that he is being ‘sidelined’ by Udhav, Bal Thackeray’s son. A political party needs an ideology and issue to keep breathing. Raj raised an issue which became the core ideology of MNS: to check uncontrolled migration to Bombay from North India especially from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This might have been a valid issue to an economically-impoverished Marathi but Raj’s constant maneuvering and tirade transformed it into venom. Raj suddenly jumped to language from economics. What happens when a politician propagating regional economics tries to become a linguist? He becomes a political snake whose bite is communicable.

Bal Thackeray became the first victim of the snake-bite when he blasted Shahrukh Khan as an “outsider” who calls himself a “Dilliwala.” Why should Bollywood become a battleground for the uncle-nephew political rivalry? The answer lies in one question: What have the uncle-nephew done to improve the lot of hapless Marathis? They have only paid lip-service while Bollywood has paid fat cheques. Not many would know that Bollywood, the world’s biggest film industry, employs thousands of Marathis. To cover their collective failure, Bal Thackeray and Raj are competing with each other to target a symbol of economic success: Bollywood.

Why has been the state acting like a mute spectator? The Congress-NCP alliance is in no mood to offend Marathi sensibilities. It has adopted an old British dictum: Divide and rule. It has tacitly supported Raj’s rants in order to divide Sena’s Marathi votes. Any official utterance is bound to have a long-term consequence. Marathi mass will not gain from this political triangle because players involved in this game are concerned about their private rather than public interests.

It is a dangerous game where Indian nationalism is being challenged by Marathi jingoism.

Lingual compulsions cannot succeed in a country like India. How would Raj react if Marathis working in the Middle East are forced to speak Arabic at public functions? Will Raj support the compulsion?

Bombay is a city that does not belong to any particular community. It is a city of Suketu Mehta and Salman Rushdie. It equally belongs to Dileep Padgaonkar and Shobhaa De`. It is a city of dreams where a Marathi as well as a Bihari co-exist to eke out a living. It is a city of irony where thousands come for bread and butter. And a few have come here in search of the bomb as well. Bombay is Bombay not because of Marathis like Raj but because of Gujaratis and Parsis who have nurtured this city into a cultural mega polis.

Having stayed in Poona, I know the fact that Marathi is a civilised language. Deep down in my heart, I curse myself that I don’t know enough Marathi to converse with government officials. I am not against any language; I am against the lingual compulsion.

Tailpiece: India bleeds by alarming regularity with the reemergence of Indian Mujahedin (IM). With Delhi blasts on Saturday, one thing is certain: Contrary to Gujarat Police claim that they have busted the real culprits, cyberpunks of IM are still at large and openly threatening to wreak havoc in India. A question which every Indian must ask: Is there any intelligent design behind it?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ahmed Faraz: Death of a Romantic

Ahmed Faraz: Main jaa chuka phir bhi teri mehfilon mein hoon! I am not an obit writer; nor do I aspire to become one. August was a month of poetic obituaries; it was a month when angel of death plucked out longstanding poetic trees in two different countries: first it was Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine, and now Ahmed Faraz of Pakistan who died on August 25 at the age of 77. If Darwish penned the pain of Occupied Palestine, Faraz mourned a militarist Pakistan. Both voices signified the poetry of protest which is the last refuge of Muse. Surprisingly both bore an uncannily pictorial resemblance. The poetry of Darwish and Faraz reflected internal struggles within the Muslim world. Their sane and at times insane voices provided an alternative platform for love as well as lament. For Faraz, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq’s military rule was boon as well as bane. He was arrested and later had to leave Pakistan. It left him bitter but at the same time it gave him enough space to popularize ‘protest poetry’. As Faraz once said, “Yet it (military rule) also provided ample food for thought for the poet and made protest poetry so popular in Pakistan.” Faraz was a limited man but with unlimited ambition. Although Faraz was a wearer of many hats; his poetry can be summed up in two nouns each beginning with R: Romance and Revolution. Teenagers took comfort in his couplets while aspiring revolutionaries quoted him at length to drive their point. His ghazal Sunaa hai log use aankh bhar ke dekhte hain was an international hit. Faraz was not just a poet of romance and love; he was a poet of masses as well as mass hysteria – a syndrome which has consumed so much of Pakistan. His poetry gave voice to the suppressed souls of a depressed Pakistan. He spoke against the Partition as well: Ab kis kaa jashn manaate ho us des kaa jo taqsiim huaa Ab kis ke giit sunaate ho us tan-man kaa jo do-niim huaa (taqsiim=divided; do-niim=cut in two) He breathed life into the idea of romance in contemporary Urdu poetry. His romantic couplets may have sparked millions of romances all around the Urdu-knowing world but yet his writings failed to bring a revolution in his troubled homeland. Perhaps therein lies the irony of Ahmed Faraz. He was a crusading poet who did not believe in the idea of crusade. He preferred verse over weapon. He never shied away from raising the standard of revolt against the Pakistani establishment. He was an asset to Pakistan but Pakistan government treated him like a liability. He was a dissenting poet disenchanted by his own military government. It is primarily for this reason that he went into a self-imposed exile for six years. He told people of Pakistan to dream because he believed that dreams do not die. In his poem titled Khvaab marate nahiin (Dreams do not die), he said: Dreams are not hearts, nor eyes or breath Which shattered, will scatter (or) Die with the death of the body. Dreams do not die. Dreams are light, life, wind, Which can not be stopped by mountains black, Which do not burn in the hells of cruelty, Like light and life and wind, they Do not bow down even in graveyards. Dreams are letters, Dreams are illumination, Dreams are Socrates, Dreams are Mansur! Faraz was a poet of official dislike and unofficial like. Pakistan of Pervez Musharraf tried to woo him with the Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2004. The trick did succeed initially. But the tricky success did not last. Faraz returned the award two years later because he was a man of conscience. He said, “My conscious will not forgive me if I remained a silent spectator of the sad happenings around us. The least I can do is to let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the concerned citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped. I am doing this by returning the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (civil) forthwith and refuse to associate myself in any way with the regime...” Faraz had compared his life to that of a candle. Main bhi chup ho jaaunga bujhti hui shama’on ke saath… (Shama’on = candles). It will not be easy to forget Faraz. He will be remembered though he is not in our ‘mehfil’: To laut kar bhi ahle-tamanna ko kush nahi Main lut kar bhi wafa kay inhi kaaflon mein hoon Badla na mayray baad bhi mozon-e-guftagu Main jaa chuka phir bhi teri mehfilon mein hoon… We have lost Faraz forever. In his own words: Ab ke ham bichhde to shaayad kabhi khwaabon mein milen Jis tarah sukhe hue phool kitaaboN mein milen Those who know Urdu will understand the essence of the above verse because these lines will get derailed in English!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dispossessed Gets Possession

Mahmoud Darwish: An icon says goodbye

Mahmoud Darwish, the “sightless vagrant” finally got a place, a grave to declare as his own. All through his life he lived the life of a gypsy who finally found his resting place, Do gaz zameen (Two yards underground), in Ramallah. He was an important pillar of Palestinian Dream. Like the late Edward Said, Darwish employed his pen to shape the Palestinian Dream. The former chose prose while the latter stuck to poetry.

Darwish, 67, who passed away following heart surgery in a Houston hospital on August 9, must have been aware of a word called death. It is an inescapable noun which puts a full stop to a short as well as a long sentence called life. Darwish knew this pretty well. In a recent poem titled ‘The Dice Thrower’ Darwish saw death knocking on his doorstep.

“To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass.
I have no role in what I was or who I will be.
It is chance and chance has no name.
I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance.”

Mahmoud Darwish, the internationally renowned poet, was a man of pain and poems. Darwish was part of the Arab Exodus of 1948. If his forced exile signified pain his poems stood for Palestine. When he was stripped of an Israeli passport in 1971, he penned a poem called ‘Passport’ in which he challenged the idea of passport:

Stripped of my name and identity?On a soil I nourished with my own hands?
All the hearts of the people are my identitySo take away my passport!

Mahmoud Darwish was an epitome of dispossession, subjugation, and exile. In his poetry Palestine was a “metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile.”

Israel always saw Darwish as an enemy but Darwish was not against the Jews. He was against the State’s policy towards fellow Palestinians. In an interview with Susan Sachs he had made it abundantly clear:

“The accusation is that I hate Jews. It’s not comfortable that they show me as a devil and an enemy of Israel. I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don’t hate Jews. (New York Times, March 7, 2000).

A cursory glance through Darwish’s poem reveals that he wrote poems for Palestine but it had universal appeal. His poetry infiltrated Israel but yet he was not allowed to set foot in Israel for almost 30 years!

His love for fellow human beings reflects in the following extract of his speech:

“I will continue to humanise even the enemy... The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew. The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl. The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman. So from the beginning, I didn’t see Jews as devils or angels but as human beings…These poems take the side of love not war.”

His poem ‘Identity Card’ chillingly summed up the complications of being a Palestinian in Occupied Palestine. It warns of hunger as well as anger; the only weapon of the dispossessed:

I have a name without a title
Record on the top of the first page:

I do not hate people
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper’s flesh will be my food
Of my hunger
And my anger!

His poetic brevity did what a book can’t do. Sample the following couplet:

A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.

To writers all across the world, he communicated the pain of his writing:

Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.

People find love in life but Darwish was an exception. He found love in death; in meeting with his beloved land:

I am the lover and the land is the beloved.

The man who used his pen to ‘cultivate hope’ is gone but he kept hope alive in the form of bitter sarcasm:

The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

Darwish, the man who talked about identity all through his life, went prepared. 'I am not Mine' was the title of one of his poems.

Even if I spell it (my name) wrong on the coffin – Is mine..

Darwish can now claim to be an owner. At least of his name if not his land.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hikma’s Innovation, R&D Leads to Global Expansion

Hikma being listed at London Stock Exchange

“Innovation, said Steve Jobs, “distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” By that standard, Jordan-originated multinational company Hikma Pharmaceuticals falls in the category of a ‘leader.’

With a modest start from Jordan in 1978, Hikma has grown into a global pharmaceutical giant with 176 pharmaceutical products in 397 dosage strengths and forms in 40 different countries.
In the beginning, Hikma’s “primary focus” was to develop branded pharmaceuticals business across Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Today, the company has become a leading pharmaceutical giant having a significant presence in MENA, United States and Europe. The company’s strength can be gauged from the fact that its total revenue shot to $448.8m in 2007, an increase of 41.6% from the previous year, underlying revenue growth of 28%.

The buzzwords that sum up Hikma’s miraculous rise are: Innovation, Research & Development, and Acquisitions. These words define the corporate identity of Hikma. These words have breathed life into Hikma or vice versa.

Since its inception, Hikma has persistently indulged in innovation. No wonder in barely three years after entering the United States, it became FDA compliant in 1994. Two years later, it became the first Arab company to get FDA approval.

It was because of Hikma’s innovation that it started manufacturing injectable pharmaceutical products in Portugal in the year 1997. Four years later, it began manufacturing injectable powdered cephalosporin for the MENA and Portugal. Since then, as the company website puts it, Hikma has expanded significantly, both organically and through acquisition.

Hikma's business

Hikma’s business can be broadly divided into three categories: Branded, Generics and Injectables.

With an impressive experience of almost three decades in pharmaceuticals, Hikma has an array of branded products of “consistently high standard.” It is because of this reputation that multinationals turn to Hikma to manufacture and market their branded pharmaceuticals under in-licensing agreement. Hikma has 236 branded products (including 33 in-licensed products). In 2007, Branded products yielded a whopping profit of $198.9m.

In Generics, the company sells unbranded generic products in the United States, one of the world’s most competitive pharmaceutical markets. To satisfy “cost-conscious” customers, Hikam sells a broad range of high and low volume products. This business operates under West-ward label. The company has 44 non-branded generic products whose profit was $124.2m in 2007.

In Injectable business, Hikma manufactures and sells generic injectable pharmaceuticals as well as some branded injectable products under license. Hikma is becoming a leader in this category with their injectables being sold in MENA, Europe and United States. Injectables, consisting of 73 products, produced a profit of $121.2m.
A Strong R&D team

Hikma success also lies in its strong research and development team. The company has 127 scientists and experts dealing with pharmaceutical formulation, process optimization, analytical chemistry and drug delivery. The R&D team consists of strong technical expertise which focuses on niche and higher margin products. The team looks for products with a strong market potential or the products which are fast growing in therapeutic categories.
Hikma’s R&D capabilities have been taken seriously. In 2007 alone, the company received 129 product approvals in a range of therapeutic categories. With effective R&D, Hikma has a strong pipeline of products waiting approval.

Strategy Emboldened by LSE (London Stock Exchange) Listing

Hikma’s listing on LSE (London Stock Exchange) in November 2005 marked the beginning of a new era in the Company’s development giving it major financial flexibility.
Hikma’s strategy is simple: to build a strong and diverse product portfolio; to expand geographic reach; to develop and leverage global research and development capabilities. Its strategy also aims to “maintain the very high standards” for manufacturing capabilities.

Across its three core businesses (Branded, Generics and Injectables), Hikma has three strategic aims:

1. To consolidate strong market position in the MENA region by launching new products, expanding geographic reach and increasing market share.

2. To grow Injectable business by expanding product portfolio, developing manufacturing capabilities and strengthening sales and marketing network.

3. To continue to pursue profitable growth and maintain significant cash generation in the United States by focusing on high margin, niche product opportunities.

For Hikma, 2007 was the year of acquisitions. Hikma made four acquisitions: Alkhan Pharma (Egypt), Arab Pharmaceutical Manufacturers - APM (Jordan and Saudi Arabia), Ribosepharm and Thymoorgan (Germany).

On Course for Major Global Expansion

In just a year’s time Hikma’s product portfolio base has been transformed: It launched 28 new products, received 167 approvals across all businesses and geographies and submitted 74 regulatory filings in Jordan, the US and Europe alone.

Said Darwazah, Chief Executive of Hikma, is confident that the company has never been in such a strong position before.

“Our position as a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer in the MENA region is stronger than ever,” he said. He was equally confident about the company’s portfolio base and manufacturing capabilities.

“We have an excellent product portfolio, a large and growing sales and marketing team and excellent manufacturing capabilities that enable us to take advantage of the extremely favourable market environment in which we operate,” he said.

Acquisitions in MENA region have boosted the morale of its Chairman. “Through the two acquisitions we made in the region this year, we are rolling out our successful business model into new markets like Egypt and strengthening our position in our core and developing markets like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries,” he said.
With an enviable balance sheet, Hikma’s future looks radiant. The Group gross margin made a healthy 49.3%, 14.8% increase in profit attributable to shareholders, which strengthened its balance sheet and the company’s ability to finance future growth. The company also raised gross proceeds of $160m to fund acquisition of APM.

Mr. Darwazah is hopeful that 2008 will be extremely fruitful for the company.

“We expect another year of strong performance in 2008 driven by our Branded and Injectable businesses as we continue to grow Hikma into a leading specialty pharmaceutical company and deliver high returns on investment to our shareholders,” he said.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Poona Diary

Poona: Rise in high-rises

What do you do when a torrent of thoughts keep pouring in like Poona's intermittent raindrops? You try to store them in transient human memory. But human memory is no safe deposit vault. Reliance on human memory is untenable in today's fast-paced world where history is being digitally recorded. So how does one treat the torrential thoughts? Should the thoughts be allowed to fall like Niagara Falls or should we make those thoughts still like dam water? Words are the only way one can standstill the moments.

As the rain gods emptied their water drums, I was compelled to uncork my bottled thoughts. If rains can wash away the layered dirt, thoughts can cleanse one's conscience. Poona is the city of purity!

Poona, once a grand empire of Maratha emperors, has become an emperor of education. It was Nehru who had crowned Poona as "Oxford of the East." Poona is a towering educational hub for Easterners who look at Oxford with awe and reverence. I was lucky to be part of the great Indian "Oxford" which taught me common sense as well as the fine art of unravelling a communal mind. When Gujarat 2002 genocide took place under the edgy knife of the great Indian butcher, I was in the second year of my graduation. In those days the best way to recognize a communalist was to give him morning newspaper and observe his wrinkles making various angles. Most of the student faces wouldn't frown; they would develop some uneasy lines and the lines suggested a sinister smile. That smile was a defeat of human conscience.

In the last six years Poona has transformed into an adult city. If adolescence creates hormonal imbalances adulthood makes visible signs of its arrival. Poona, no doubt, has become adult, but it suffers from mall mentality; the newest economic disease plaguing India. High-rises do not reflect a city's growth; it mirrors corporate greed. Should we measure a city's growth by abundance of malls and high-rises or by number of beggars on a posh M.G. Road? The answer lies in the economic principle of moderation. In economics, too much of anything is bad.

Poona is Bombay's competing cousin: frequent traffic jams, rising pollution levels, sudden increase in crime and violence. But yet Poona is a far better cousin than Bombay. The difference between Poona and Bombay is that of a noun and an adjective: Poona is fun, Bombay is funny!
Was 'Poona' a spelling mistake? Or a result of colonial hangover?

No. Poona is more civilized than Pune.

Raj Thackeray's threat is visible on nameplates of foreign fast food giants like Pizza Hut and Dominos: they have learned to write their names in Marathi. It is altogether a different matter that Maharashtra assembly has passed a resolution to this effect. I am not against Marathi language; I am against the compulsion. Raj threat can result in electoral loss of the ruling class so there is a race to appease the Marathi Manoos. Not long ago, Uddhav Thackeray and Ramdas Athavale were at loggerheads to appease the Marathi Manoos: Shiv vada pav versus Bheem vada pav! Can vada pav economically uplift a community? My Marathi friends don't think so!

A short visit to Symbiosis, my alma mater, reveals that it has changed completely. Printed forms are history and internet is no longer a mystery! There are no queues. It offers an excellent lesson to Bombay's colleges.

Poona is a city of endless opportunities where opportunity knocks as well as lingers.

Afterthought: Why is Mulayam getting really Mulayam for Sonia Gandhi? Because he is the velvet carpet of UPA chairperson!