Sunday, May 25, 2008

State Win and a Capital Dream

Saffron Travels South: A BJP Worker celebrates in Karnataka (Pic: PTI)

Change is the only constant factor in the Indian politics. Political parties are not winning by chance but by the slogan of change. From Mayawati to Malegaon, change is the only constant noun voters are keen to pronounce. This seismic change-flow has the potential to change a young man’s dynastic dreams! After Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in North, change is threatening to travel to a dreaded territory: Southern India.

BJP’s impressive and historic delivery in Karnataka was a result of a clever conception. BJP planned a political pregnancy much ahead of Congress party. Congress would love to get politically pregnant but it does not know the time of its conception. In-vitro-fertilization does not work in politics. Congress thought November to be an auspicious month of delivery while BJP delivered a full-grown baby in the last week of May!

Five months’ delay in a political delivery can make you wait for another five years.

Rahul Gandhi, “the future Prime Minster of India,” had planned to impregnate Karnataka in five hours. He visited Karnataka for a day and dedicated barely five hours to woo (campaigns, of course) its voters. Even a Romeo would not be so harsh for his Juliet!

For Janata Dal (S), Karnataka election was a total dejection. Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda’s political career has been eclipsed by 30-seat loss. Deve Gowda considered Karnataka as his mother-in-laws’ house where he will only be pampered by votes but the verdict proved to be totally different. You can’t fool the same set of people again and again. Before Deve Gowda could outdo BJP by playing caste card; BJP wrote a political obituary of Janata Dal (S). Voters don’t forget politicians who don’t honour their words. Public memory is definitely not short. Deve Gowda must always remember one thing: In politics, loyalty can turn lethal if you don’t distribute royalty!

What brought saffron party to power is an interesting question. It portrayed itself as the only “alternative.” A party whose fate has suffered “backstabbing” and “betrayal” can expect public healing. It was the wave of change that worked in favour of the BJP. Public believed in BJP but yet Rajnath Singh did not believe in himself. “BJP is an all-India party now,” he said. That statement lay between excitement and hysteria. Nobody said that BJP is a regional party.
One might term this ludicrous but I firmly believe that four pillars of UPA government have played a pivotal role in BJP’s victory: Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Manmoham Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Sharad Pawar, who has a penchant for cricket (its no longer cricket, it should be called moneytainment), does not have time for agriculture ministry. He only believes in politics and not policy. All of a sudden he wakes up from his deep slumber and declares total ban on the wheat export. Is that policy? That’s the politics of next general election to control the monster of inflation. Our union finance minister, who wears a sophisticated dhoti, does not know a thing or two about the inflation. Does he know that 19 lakh power loom weavers across the country are incurring losses because of the inflation? When his ministry could not contain inflation, all he did was to threaten steel and cement companies. To him, inflation is like a desert storm which comes all of a sudden with no prior warning. Manmohan Singh, India’s gentlest Prime Minister, believes in delegation but not in responsibility. He keeps himself in mute-mode and perhaps considers assertion a sinful indulgence. Even if he tries to assert himself, our Finance Minister does not care. Sonia Gandhi, a woman of conscience, observes but still keeps her cool. Where is the power of authority?
Mismanagement at the Centre had an impact in Karnataka. It’s high time that Congress learns from sins of omission and commission. In an era of coalition politics, Congress is still searching political partners in order to get pregnant in the second half of 2009. Conception depends on the right match. Will Congress find one or many? Ground is fertile but Congress does not have a conception plan yet. BJP has just won a state; it can win entire India if Congress continues its policy of indifference.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is Maharashtra Heading for a Big Riot?

Shiv Sena people distributing the controversial CD in Aurangabad

There have been four riots in April in the Mara­thwada region: Sevali (3 April, Jalna district); Rav­er and Chopda (13 and 22 April, Jalgaon district); Bharari (18 April, Aurangabad district). The rea­son was the same. A controversial CD with a song, Kasam Ram ki khate hain, Mandir wahin banayenge (We take oath on Ram, we will build the temple there — Ayodhya), is being played in public, inciting anger among Muslims.

In Muslim-majority Sevali, Muslims objected when the song was played at a paan stall just outside a mosque. The in­cident blew up. Muslims resorted to stone pelting and stab­bing. At least seven Hindus have been stabbed. As a pro­test, Hindu organisations like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, BJP, Shiv Sena and Arya Samaj called for a district bandh. Volun­teers forced shops to down their shutters. Public buses were stoned. Slogans like "Anyone living in this country will have to say Vande Mataram" were raised.

Hundreds — belonging to both communities — have been arrested.

"Some Muslims here have become so sensitive, they al­ways overreact," said Amit Pradhan, a resident of Sevali.

"As far as the controversial CD episode is concerned, it was just one of the manifestations of communalism. Mara­thwada is communally sensitive. The basic cause of commu­nalism in Marathwada region is that people harbour a sense of revenge against the Nizam's rule (the region belonged to the pre-partition Hyderabad state)," scholar Ashgar Ali Engi­neer, who has documented almost each and every riot since 1961, told Covert.

In Raver, Jalgaon, the VHP annd Bajrang Dal organised a re­ligious procession without clearance from the police on Ram Navami. As it passed a Muslim mohalla near Kotlawada Masjid, provocative slogans were raised and somebody threw gulal on the mosque. Muslims reacted.

"The police tried to pacify the people, but nobody would listen. At least seven policemen have been injured in the communal clash," said Mushtaq Karimi, a social worker.

Both Hindus and Muslims have suffered. Most houses set on fire belonged to Hindus, while Muslims are being ha­rassed after the event. Of the 60 arrested, 50 are Muslims and ten Hindus.
"Muslim youths have been terrorised by mindless arrests. They are fleeing from their villages to the safer ghettos. It's the same story everywhere," Engineer lamented. Argues Ab­dul Karim Salar, a Jalgaon-based former politician and ed­ucationist, "It is a fact that Hindus have suffered more in financial terms, but does that give licence to the police to terrorise an entire community?" No action has been taken against the 'illegal' procession.

A Scuffle between a Hindu and Muslim in Chopda, Jalgaon, built quickly into a confrontation. Two Hindus died in po­lice firing. Shops and houses belonging to Muslims were set on fire.

"Police acted only when rioters started using kero­sene. Rioters turned their rage on the police, and one cop, Prakash Hake, was dragged by the collar for about 20 feet," one eyewitness said on the condition of anonymity. "The mob poured kerosene on him, but before he could be set alight, police opened fire and two Hindus died on the spot." 19 Hindus have been arrested so far.

In Aurangabad's Muslim majorirty Bharari village, the con­troversial song was being played outside a mosque as Mus­lims were offering the evening prayer. Minutes later, a near­by paan stall owned by a Muslim was attacked. Muslims allege that rioters wore saffron masks and raised provocative slo­gans. Muslims cowered in the mosque, shielded by the po­lice. Mumtaz Khan Pathan, owner of Yash Photo Studio who used to provide pictures to the press in Aurangabad district, became a story himself. "All my belongings worth Rs 240,000 have been vandalised," he said.

Ashgar Ali Engineer described the Marathwada region as communally "overactive" while western Maharashtra is mere­ly "active". He warned the state government that communal forces might try to stoke communal passions all across Maharashtra.

COVERT Magazine, May 15 – May 30

Sunday, May 11, 2008

'Fitna' of Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders: Hate lies in the eyes of the beholder!

In just six different verses of the Qur’an, Geert Wilders – the infamous Dutch Parliamentarian who had once said that the Qur’an must be banned – sums up the world’s fastest growing religion: Islam is essentially an intolerant and violent religion. This approach itself is a fanatical example of Fitna. In Arabic, the word Fitna means tumult or oppression. The selective approach reflects a sordid act of oppression. Cinematic oppression based on bias, hatred and a half-hearted understanding of a Christian fundamentalist who does not know the comprehensive meaning of the word ‘freedom.’

I can quote six, sixteen and even sixty verses from the Old and New Testament which openly advocate violence. Does that make Judaism and Christianity violent religions? I can quote the same number of violent verses from Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna tells Arjuna to wage war (Dharma Yuddha) on his own brothers and relatives. Does that make Hinduism a violent religion? The answer is a firm no.

Text and context of the violent verses must be kept in mind. I am not an Islamic scholar, but it is true that plenty of verses of the Qur’an were revealed in the midst of a battlefield when Prophet recited them in a state of trance. Also, one would be shocked and not surprised to find out that the Qur’an contains naskh (abrogating) and mansukh (abrogated) verses. Qur’an says, “When We substitute one revelation for another – and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages) – they say, ‘Thou art but a forger’: but most of them understand not.” (16: 101)

Be aware of the learned man’s false knowledge! Don’t be surprised if you come across scholarly essays which argue that Qur’an is full of contradictions! Even a scholar like Fareed Zakaria’s stature has suffered from this syndrome.

Conjecture is a dangerous approach when speaking of the Qur’an. Conjecture follows lines, which reflect the lust of men’s own hearts.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the ace commentator of Qur’an, describes them as “men with a manifest turn of mind” and whose knowledge will be “limited to the narrow circle in which their thoughts move.”

Qur’an must not be interpreted on the basis of some verses it must be interpreted in its totality. To quote professor Abdur Rahman I Doi would be apt:

Supposing someone takes the Qur’an in his hand at random, then begins to read it by grouping together all the chapters dealing with the same topic or rearranging them subject-wise or according to order of their revelation, and then begins to interpret it according to this newly designed system and looks for some hidden meanings within the text. Then this would be wholly inconsistent with the spirit of the Book, because the Qur’an in fact reflects the totality of vision, and with perfect comprehensiveness, it presents an integrated picture of life. While treating the study of the Qur’an like the study of any other book, many superfluous scholars have gone wrong.”

The 17 minute documentary opens with the cartoon of Prophet Muhammad in whose turban a live-bomb is attached. Verses from the Qur’an are pitted against the various terrorist activities and bombings worldwide as if every suicide bomber and martyr wants a virile virgin in the Paradise. Social and economic issues – the root causes of most of the violent activities all across the globe – have been carefully overlooked as if Islam is the opium whose sole quality is to stimulate violence.

What troubles Wilders is Islam’s growing “spell” on Netherlands and Europe. No doubt, Islam is on the rise. In fact it has been resurgent in Europe and America. The hate speech of Pope Benedict XVI in September 2006 reflects official Christendom’s discomfort with the growing Islam. Pope’s rant (“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”) does not find any takers in today’s globalised world where Islam’s rate of growth is simply based on one word: Peace!

Which Islamic army went to China, America, Indonesia, Japan and many more countries where Islam has spread by other means? Suffice it to note that Islam spread to China because of business ethics. Muslim traders taught Chinese what business honesty means.

Wilders’ wildest fantasy is to “defeat” Islam the way Nazism and Communism were defeated in 1945 and 1989 respectively. Islam is different from ‘isms’ and ‘ideologies.’ Isms and ideologies can be defeated but Islam can never be defeated. Am I sounding like a fatal fundamentalist? No. The reason is simple: Islam is not a religion but a way of life. Can you defeat a way of life?

Wilders understanding the word ‘freedom’ is flawed. He only believes in the bodily forms of liberation. No wonder he is concerned that there is no ban on burqa in Netherlands! We are living in a strange world where bikini is ‘civilised’ and burqa is ‘barbaric!’ What we do is ‘freedom’. What others do is ‘fanaticism!’

Wilders can’t digest the flourishing Halal-investment industry in Netherlands. What would happen if Muslims suddenly withdraw their savings and investments from various financial institutions of Netherlands? The country would receive an economic jolt. Should we call it an economic boycott or an economic Jihad?

Wilders carefully avoids portraying his own faith. The history of Christianity is bloodier as well as more spiteful than the history of Islam. Any historian blessed with common sense would agree. One only needs to read M.J. Akbar’s The Shade of Swords. In a chapter called Circle of Hell, the author conclusively proves that the hate culture of Christendom was more venomous than that of Islam. To deny Jesus is to deny Islam. “Islam can survive with Jesus as a Prophet; Christianity cannot if Muhammad, and not Christ, is the last Messenger,” Akbar writes.

Qur’an is not a book of hatred but a book of humanity. Qur’an calls Christians and Jews as Ahle-Kitaab, People of the Book, a respectable title indeed. It does not call them ‘pigs’ as the documentary purports.

The documentary ends when the live-bomb attached to the Prophet Muhammad’s turban explodes. By portraying Prophet Muhammad in offensive cartoons, the ‘enlightened West’ is using its best weapon: ridicule.

A messenger of hate bares the strategy of ridicule:

“The ridicule-armed warrior need not fix a physical sight on the target. Ridicule will find its own way to the targeted individual…To the enemy, ridicule can be worse than death. At least many enemies find death to be a supernatural martyrdom. Ridicule is much worse: destruction without martyrdom: A fate worse than death.”

Islam is not a religion of ridicule; it is a religion of reason. “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord,” says the Qur’an, “with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious…(16: 125)

Sane voices do good things in strange ways. Not many would know that Dutch Jewish TV producer, Harry De Winter has criticised Fitna, which he calls as “anti-Semitic.” Harry has come out with a bold advertisement on the front page of the newspaper Volkskrant. The ad reads:

What is your message?

“We Jews know better than anyone else what this sort of discrimination can lead to. Wilders claims that the Muslims must be dealt with and that the Koran is a fascist book. That’s how the persecution of Jews once started, by generalization. Therefore, it is time for a sharper criticism from the Jewish community. If you say the same thing about the Jews or Israel, you are considered an anti-Semite and ostracized. It is good that this feeling of justice is so strong, but, for me, there is no difference between the yarmulke and the headscarf.

If Wilders had said the same thing about Jews (and the Old Testament) as he does about Muslims (and the Koran), he would have been ostracized a long time ago and accused of anti-Semitism.”

Rabble-rousers like Wilders will not flourish in today’s multi-cultural society. They would go down in the dustbin of history as nobodies.

Hyper-reactions, Akbar writes sensibly, tend to suggest nervousness. “Islam is not a weak doctrine; it is built on rock, not sand. Reason is a more effective weapon than anger.”