Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Was it really an ‘abject surrender’ by the NDA Government?
There have been innumerable communal riots in India, nearly all of them in States ruled by the Congress at the time of the violence, yet everybody loves to pretend that blood was shed in the name of religion for the first time in Gujarat in 2002 and that the BJP Government headed by Mr Narendra Modi must bear the burden of the cross.
Similarly, nobody remembers the various incidents of Indian Airlines aircraft being hijacked when the Congress was in power at the Centre, the deals that were struck to rescue the hostages, and the compromises that were made at the expense of India’s dignity and honour. But everybody remembers the hijacking of IC 814 and nearly a decade after the incident, many people still hold the BJP-led NDA Government responsible for the ‘shameful’ denouement.
The Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, designated IC 814, with 178 passengers and 11 crew members on board, was hijacked on Christmas Eve, 1999, a short while after it took-off from Tribhuvan International Airport; by then, the aircraft had entered Indian airspace. Nine years later to the day, with an entire generation coming of age, it would be in order to recall some facts and place others on record.
In 1999 I was serving as an aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the PMO, and I still have vivid memories of the tumultuous week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Mr Vajpayee had gone out of Delhi on an official tour; I had accompanied him along with other officials of the PMO. The hijacking of IC 814 occurred while we were returning to Delhi in one of the two Indian Air Force Boeings which, in those days, were used by the Prime Minister for travel within the country.
Curiously, the initial information about IC 814 being hijacked, of which the IAF was believed to have been aware, was not communicated to the pilot of the Prime Minister’s aircraft. As a result, Mr Vajpayee and his aides remained unaware of the hijacking till reaching Delhi. This caused some amount of controversy later.
It was not possible for anybody else to have contacted us while we were in midair. It’s strange but true that the Prime Minister of India would be incommunicado while on a flight because neither the ageing IAF Boeings nor the Air India Jumbos, used for official travel abroad (in those days), had satellite phone facilities.
By the time our aircraft landed in Delhi, it was around 7:00 pm, a full hour and 40 minutes since the hijacking of IC 814. After disembarking from the aircraft in the VIP bay of Palam Technical Area, we were surprised to find National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra waiting at the foot of the ladder. He led Mr Vajpayee aside and gave him the news. They got into the Prime Minister’s car and it sped out of the Technical Area. Some of us followed Mr. Vajpayee to Race Course Road, as was the normal routine.
On our way to the Prime Minister’s residence, colleagues in the PMO provided us with the basic details. The Kathmandu-Delhi flight had been commandeered by five hijackers (later identified as Ibrahim Athar, resident of Bahawalpur, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Gulshan Iqbal, resident of Karachi, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, resident of Defence Area, Karachi, Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim, resident of Akhtar Colony, Karachi, and Shakir, resident of Sukkur City) at 5:20 pm; there were 189 passengers and crew members on board; and that the aircraft was heading towards Lahore.
At the Prime Minister’s residence, senior Ministers and Secretaries had already been summoned for an emergency meeting. Mr Mishra left for the crisis control room that had been set up at Rajiv Bhavan. In between meetings, Mr Vajpayee instructed his personal staff to cancel all celebrations planned for December 25, his birthday. The Cabinet Committee on Security met late into the night as our long vigil began.
Meanwhile, we were informed that the pilot of IC 814 had been denied permission to land at Lahore airport. With fuel running low, he was heading for Amritsar. Officials at Raja Sansi Airport were immediately alerted and told to prevent the plane from taking off after it had landed there.
The hijacked plane landed at Amritsar and remained parked on the tarmac for nearly 45 minutes. The hijackers demanded that the aircraft be refuelled. The airport officials ran around like so many headless chickens, totally clueless about what was to be done in a crisis situation.
Desperate calls were made to the officials at Raja Sansi Airport to somehow stall the refuelling and prevent the plane from taking off. The officials just failed to respond with alacrity. At one point, an exasperated Jaswant Singh, if memory serves me right, grabbed the phone and pleaded with an official, “Just drive a heavy vehicle, a fuel truck or a road roller or whatever you have, onto the runway and park it there.” But all this was to no avail.
The National Security Guards, whose job it is to deal with hostage situations, were alerted immediately after news first came in of IC 814 being hijacked; they were reportedly asked to stand by for any emergency. The Home Ministry was again alerted when it became obvious that after being denied permission to land at Lahore, the pilot was heading towards Amritsar.
Yet, despite IC 814 remaining parked at Amritsar for three-quarters of an hour, the NSG commandos failed to reach the aircraft. There are two versions as to why the NSG didn’t show up: First, they were waiting for an aircraft to ferry them from Delhi to Amritsar; second, they were caught in a traffic jam between Manesar and Delhi airport. The real story was never known!
The hijackers, anticipating commando action, first stabbed a passenger, Rupin Katyal (he had gone to Kathmandu with his newly wedded wife for their honeymoon; had they not extended their stay by a couple of days, they wouldn’t have been on the ill-fated flight) to show that they meant business, and then forced the pilot to take off from Amritsar. With almost empty fuel tanks, the pilot had no other option but to make another attempt to land at Lahore airport. Once again he was denied permission and all the lights, including those on the runway, were switched off. He nonetheless went ahead and landed at Lahore airport, showing remarkable skill and courage.
Mr Jaswant Singh spoke to the Pakistani Foreign Minister and pleaded with him to prevent the aircraft from taking off again. But the Pakistanis would have nothing of it (they wanted to distance themselves from the hijacking so that they could claim later that there was no Pakistan connection) and wanted IC 814 off their soil and out of their airspace as soon as possible. So, they refuelled the aircraft after which the hijackers forced the pilot to head for Dubai.
At Dubai, too, officials were reluctant to allow the aircraft to land. It required all the persuasive skills of Mr Jaswant Singh and our then Ambassador to UAE, Mr KC Singh, to secure landing permission. There was some negotiation with the hijackers through UAE officials and they allowed 13 women and 11 children to disembark. Rupin Katyal had by then bled to death. His body was offloaded. His widow remained a hostage till the end.
On the morning of December 25, the aircraft left Dubai and headed towards Afghanistan. It landed at Kandahar Airport, which had one serviceable runway, a sort of ATC and a couple of shanties. The rest of the airport was in a shambles, without power and water supply, a trophy commemorating the Taliban’s rule.
On Christmas Eve, after news of the hijacking broke, there was stunned all-round silence. But by noon on December 25, orchestrated protests outside the Prime Minister’s residence began, with women beating their chests and tearing their clothes. The crowd swelled by the hour as the day progressed.
Ms Brinda Karat came to commiserate with the relatives of the hostages who were camping outside the main gate of 7, Race Course Road. In fact, she became a regular visitor over the next few days. There was a steady clamour that the Government should pay any price to bring the hostages back home, safe and sound. This continued till December 30.
One evening, the Prime Minister asked his staff to let the families come in so that they could be told about the Government’s efforts to secure the hostages’ release. By then negotiations had begun and Mullah Omar had got into the act through his ‘Foreign Minister’, Muttavakil. The hijackers wanted 36 terrorists, held in various Indian jails, to be freed or else they would blow up the aircraft with the hostages.
No senior Minister in the CCS was willing to meet the families. Mr Jaswant Singh volunteered to do so. He asked me to accompany him to the canopy under which the families had gathered. Once there, we were literally mobbed. He tried to explain the situation but was shouted down.
“We want our relatives back. What difference does it make to us what you have to give the hijackers?” a man shouted. “We don’t care if you have to give away Kashmir,” a woman screamed and others took up the refrain, chanting: “Kashmir de do, kuchh bhi de do, hamare logon ko ghar wapas lao.” Another woman sobbed, “Mera beta… hai mera beta…” and made a great show of fainting of grief.
To his credit, Mr Jaswant Singh made bold to suggest that the Government had to keep the nation’s interest in mind, that we could not be seen to be giving in to the hijackers, or words to that effect, in chaste Hindi. That fetched him abuse and rebuke. “Bhaand me jaaye desh aur bhaand me jaaye desh ka hit. (To hell with the country and national interest),” many in the crowd shouted back. Stumped by the response, Mr Jaswant Singh could merely promise that the Government would do everything possible.
I do not remember the exact date, but sometime during the crisis, Mr Jaswant Singh was asked to hold a Press conference to brief the media. While the briefing was on at the Press Information Bureau hall in Shastri Bhavan, some families of the hostages barged in and started shouting slogans. They were led by one Sanjiv Chibber, who, I was later told, was a ‘noted surgeon’: He claimed six of his relatives were among the hostages.
Dr Chibber wanted all 36 terrorists named by the hijackers to be released immediately. He reminded everybody in the hall that in the past terrorists had been released from prison to secure the freedom of Ms Rubayya Sayeed, daughter of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, while he was Home Minister in VP Singh’s Government. “Why can’t you release the terrorists now when our relatives are being held hostage?” he demanded. And then we heard the familiar refrain: “Give away Kashmir, give them anything they want, we don’t give a damn.”
On another evening, there was a surprise visitor at the PMO: The widow of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose plane was shot down during the Kargil war. She insisted that she should be taken to meet the relatives of the hostages. At Race Course Road, she spoke to mediapersons and the hostages’ relatives, explaining why India must not be seen giving in to the hijackers, that it was a question of national honour, and gave her own example of fortitude in the face of adversity.
“She has become a widow, now she wants others to become widows. Who is she to lecture us? Yeh kahan se aayi?” someone shouted from the crowd. Others heckled her. The young widow stood her ground, displaying great dignity and courage. As the mood turned increasingly ugly, she had to be led away. Similar appeals were made by others who had lost their sons, husbands and fathers in the Kargil war that summer. Col Virendra Thapar, whose son Lt Vijayant Thapar was martyred in the war, made a fervent appeal for people to stand united against the hijackers. It fell on deaf ears.
The media made out that the overwhelming majority of Indians were with the relatives of the hostages and shared their view that no price was too big to secure the hostages’ freedom. The Congress kept on slyly insisting, “We are with the Government and will support whatever it does for a resolution of the crisis and to ensure the safety of the hostages. But the Government must explain its failure.” Harkishen Singh Surjeet and other Opposition politicians issued similar ambiguous statements.
By December 28, the Government’s negotiators had struck a deal with the hijackers: They would free the hostages in exchange of three dreaded terrorists — Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Sheikh — facing various charges of terrorism.
The CCS met frequently, several times a day, and discussed the entire process threadbare. The Home Minister, the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister, apart from the National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister, were present at every meeting. The deal was further fine-tuned, the Home Ministry completed the necessary paper work, and two Indian Airlines aircraft were placed on standby to ferry the terrorists to Kandahar and fetch the hostages.
On December 31, the two aircraft left Delhi airport early in the morning. Mr Jaswant Singh was on board one of them. Did his ministerial colleagues know that he would travel to Kandahar? More important, was the Prime Minister aware of it? The answer is both yes and no.
Mr Jaswant Singh had mentioned his decision to go to Kandahar to personally oversee the release of hostages and to ensure there was no last-minute problem. He was honour-bound to do so, he is believed to have said, since he had promised the relatives of the hostages that no harm would come their way. It is possible that nobody thought he was serious about his plan. It is equally possible that others turned on him when the ‘popular mood’ and the Congress turned against the Government for its ‘abject surrender’.
On New Year’s eve, the hostages were flown back to Delhi. By New Year’s day, the Government was under attack for giving in to the hijackers’ demand! Since then, this ‘shameful surrender’ is held against the NDA and Mr Jaswant Singh is painted as the villain of the piece.
Could the Kandahar episode have ended any other way? Were an Indian aircraft to be hijacked again, would we respond any differently? Not really. As a nation we do not have the guts to stand up to terrorism. We cannot take hits and suffer casualties. We start counting our dead even before a battle has been won or lost. We make a great show of honouring those who die on the battlefield and lionise brave hearts of history, but we do not want our children to follow in their footsteps.
We are, if truth be told, a nation of cowards who don’t have the courage to admit their weakness but are happy to blame a well-meaning politician who, perhaps, takes his regimental motto of ‘Izzat aur Iqbal’ rather too seriously.
(This was originally published in The Pioneer on December 24, 2008.)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
British Foreign Office records, including minutes of discussions approved by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ernest Bevin, substantiate this assessment. For instance, a Foreign Office minute prepared for Prime Minister Clement Attlee said, “The Foreign Secretary has expressed anxiety lest we should appear to be siding with India in the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir which is now before the United Nations Security Council. With the situation as critical as it is in Palestine, Mr Bevin feels that we must be very careful to guard against the danger of aligning the whole of Islam against us, which might be the case were Pakistan to obtain a false impression of our attitude in the Security Council.” If six decades ago the Attlee Cabinet was keen to appease Islamists by short-changing India on Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Barack Hussein Obama’s Administration may be tempted to do something similar to establish its credentials in the Islamic world since it won’t dare to push around Israel.
Interestingly, Louis Mountbatten, who had played no small role in steering the Jammu & Kashmir issue to the Security Council, found the British Foreign Office policy harmful to larger Commonwealth interests. In one of his reports he recorded: “Everybody here (in India) is now convinced that power politics and not impartiality are governing the attitude of the Security Council... Indian leaders counter this (attempts to dispel this conviction) by saying that the Anglo-American Bloc apparently attaches so high a value on the maintenance of Muslim solidarity in the Middle-East that they are even ready to pay the price of driving India out of the Commonwealth into the arms of Russia...”.
Not known for being tolerant of Indian sensitivities, Philip Noel-Baker, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, was easily persuaded by Bevin’s perspective and he took it upon himself to pro-actively lobby with the US and non-permanent Security Council members to toe a pro-Pakistan line in enforcing a solution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue through a UN-sponsored plebiscite. Noel-Baker had his way with Resolution 39 adopted by the Security Council on January 20, 1948, on the setting up of a three-member UN Commission for India and Pakistan which would visit the two countries, study the ground situation, and report back to the Security Council.
Noel-Baker followed this up by aggressively pushing a draft resolution that was crafted in a manner to favour Pakistan. The US representative was initially hesitant to go along with Noel-Baker’s draft, but was soon won over. Surprisingly, at this stage the Chinese representative came up with an alternative draft that was comparatively more balanced. In a change of tactics, necessitated by his being reprimanded by Attlee who feared ‘irreparable damage’ to relations with India, Noel-Baker seized upon this draft and cunningly had it amended to such an extent that it bore no resemblance with the original draft; the Noel-Baker version of the Chinese draft came to be adopted as Resolution 47 by the Security Council on April 21, 1948.
Resolution 47 set out the terms of reference in two parts. Part One increased the number of members of the UNCIP from three to five (Noel-Baker believed that a larger team would enable a report more in tune with his perspective) and instructed the UNCIP to “proceed at once” in order to “place its good offices and mediation” at the disposal of India and Pakistan with the twin goals of restoring peace and order and holding a plebiscite. Part Two comprised the Security Council’s recommendations to India and Pakistan for achieving these goals:
i. Pakistan should “use its best endeavours” to secure the withdrawal of the raiders (tribesmen and other Pakistani nationals) from Jammu & Kashmir;
ii. India should withdraw its forces and reduce them to the minimum level required for the maintenance of law and order; and,
iii. UNCIP might employ troops of either dominion “subject to the agreement of both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan”.
Pakistan rejected Resolution 47, demanding an amendment that the deployment of Pakistani troops should not be subject to the agreement of the Government of India. The amendment was defeated. India rejected the Resolution on the ground that it was weighed in favour of Pakistan and that it skirted the main issue as contained in India’s reference to the Security Council — that of vacating the Pakistani aggression. India also pointed out that the Security Council had failed to issue a clear call to Pakistan to withdraw the raiders before going into the plebiscite arrangements. However, both India and Pakistan accepted the setting up of the UNCIP and agreed to receive the Commission.
The UNCIP visited India and Pakistan in July 1948. By May 1948, the ground situation had undergone a radical material change with Pakistani Army regulars being deployed in the occupied areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Zafarullah Khan admitted to the UNCIP that Pakistani Army regulars had been deployed since May 1948. This was seen by the UNCIP as a violation of earlier Security Council Resolutions that had insisted on there being no material change in the ground situation.
The UNCIP’s findings and its subsequent Resolutions (of August 13, 1949, and January 5, 1948) were not influenced by Noel-Baker primarily because there was no British representative in the commission. Also, by then India had launched a diplomatic offensive as well as demonstrated its determination to force out the Pakistani invaders militarily. Therefore, the UNCIP reports and Resolutions, unlike the Security Council’s Resolution 47, did not reflect a deliberate pro-Pakistan tilt; recognised that the entry of Pakistani Army into Jammu & Kashmir was a violation of Security Council Resolution 38; demanded that Pakistan must withdraw its forces from Jammu & Kashmir since their presence constituted a “material change in the situation”; and, conceded primacy to a ceasefire based on withdrawal of the invaders.
The rest is history.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
American interventionism as policy
By Kanchan Gupta
US President-elect Barack Hussein Obama’s utterances on Jammu & Kashmir, indicating that the so-called ‘Kashmir issue’ will figure on the agenda of his Administration, just as it featured on the ‘To Do’ list of Mr Bill Clinton during his first term as President, have raised more than eyebrows in India. To his credit, President George W Bush had steered clear of the ‘Kashmir issue’; he snubbed Pakistan each time it tried to push for a revival of American interventionism, insisting that Islamabad had to deal directly with New Delhi. Even Gen Colin Powell, with his pronounced pro-Pakistan bias, could not get Mr Bush to change his view and send in Nosy Parkers from the State Department to play their insidious games. Recall a busybody called Ms Robin Raphael whom Mr Clinton promoted during his first presidential term to ‘solve’ the ‘Kashmir issue’. She used the opportunity to forge the All-Party Hurriyat Conference with disastrous consequences in Jammu & Kashmir, and colluded with Benazir Bhutto to create the monster called Taliban in the hope Mullah Mohammed Omar would look after Unocal’s business interests.
With the shadow of American interventionism as policy looming large, it would be instructive to scan the past, if only to figure out the genesis of the West’s proclivity to interfere in an issue that neither impacts it directly nor does it understand entirely. Interestingly, much before the US decided to get into the act, it was the UK which manipulated events in a manner that whetted Washington’s appetite. Equally interesting is the reason that shaped Anglo-American perception and policy on Jammu & Kashmir, which does not figure in much of the discourse on this issue but has been presented in great detail by former diplomat C Dasgupta in his path-breaking book, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir — 1947-48.
First, some bare facts. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, making Jammu & Kashmir an integral part of India. Simultaneously, Indian forces were airlifted to Srinagar to evict the Pakistani invaders and establish India’s sovereignty over its territory. The accession was — and remains — entirely valid in terms of the Government of India Act of 1935 and India Independence Act of 1947; it is total and irrevocable in international law. Speaking in the UN Security Council on February 4, 1948, the US representative, Warren Austen, said: “The external sovereignty of Kashmir is no longer under the control of the Maharaja... with the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India, this foreign sovereignty went over to India and is exercised by India and that is why India happens to be here (at the UNSC) as a petitioner...”.
India went to the UN in good faith after Pakistan refused to vacate territory occupied by its armed raiders. In its formal reference, lodged with the Security Council on January 1, 1948 under Article 35 of the UN Charter, which permits member states to bring any situation whose continuance is likely to endanger international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council, India asserted: “Such a situation now exists between India and Pakistan owing to the aid which invaders, consisting of nationals of Pakistan and of tribesmen from the territory immediately adjoining Pakistan on the North-West, are drawing from Pakistan for operations against Jammu & Kashmir, a State which has acceded to the Dominion of India and is part of India... The Government of India request the Security Council to call upon Pakistan to put an end immediately to the giving of such assistance which is an act of aggression against India.”
In the reference, India also asserted its right, under international law, to self-defence by initiating military action against Pakistan by way of what is today termed as ‘hot pursuit’: “In order that the objective of expelling the invader from Indian territory and preventing him from launching fresh attacks should be quickly achieved, Indian troops would have to enter Pakistan territory...”.
In addition to the five permanent members, the UNSC in 1948 had Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Syria and Ukraine as non-permanent members. The instant reaction of the UNSC was to issue a Presidential Statement on January 6, 1948, making an “urgent appeal (to India and Pakistan) to refrain from any step incompatible with the (UN) Charter and liable to result in an aggravation of the situation”. This was followed by Resolution 38 on January 17, 1948, reiterating the Presidential Statement and requesting both countries to immediately report to the Security Council any material change in the situation.
Across the Atlantic, the Commonwealth Relations Office entered the picture at this point, formulating a political perspective that came to greatly influence the Security Council’s subsequent handling of the ‘Kashmir issue’, at least up to the formation of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan. The CRO’s perspective was rooted, and strangely so, in the British Foreign Office assessment of the emerging political crisis in West Asia. Britain in those days stood accused by Arabs (and their sympathisers in Europe and the US) of having abjectly failed in its Mandate over Palestine as it had been unable to control the immigration of Jews. Britain was also seen as having failed in its responsibility to prevent or contain the outbreak of what was then referred to as ‘civil war’ (which still continues to rage between Palestinians and Israelis).
Britain took the Palestine issue to the UN in April 1947 and announced its decision to abandon its mandate by May 1948. The UN General Assembly immediately adopted a Resolution for dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, paving the way for Israel’s re-birth as the homeland for Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora. The Arab reaction was vicious, instantaneous and directed in bulk against Britain.
(Tomorrow: Linking the ‘Palestine issue’ to the ‘Kashmir issue’.)
OPEDITORIAL The Pioneer November 13, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Coffee Break: Kanchan Gupta
Ever since Azamgarh hit the headlines in newspapers and grabbed prime time on 24x7 news channels after the police tracked many of the bombers responsible for the slaughter of innocent people in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi to this district of Uttar Pradesh, mullahs and politicians who trade in Muslim votes have been flocking there to record their indignation that those guilty of mass murder should be brought to justice.Earlier, Azamgarh would provide the cannon fodder for Mumbai’s vicious and bloody gang-wars with Azamgarhis offering their services as ‘hitmen’ to Dawood Ibrahim and others of his ilk. The argument one would often hear in justification of their carrying out ‘supari’ killings was two-fold: The lure of Mumbai’s glittering lifestyle and easy money; and, the frustration of unemployed Muslim youth discriminated against in ‘Hindu’ India.Those who terrorised Mumbai’s rich and famous, ran extortion, betting and hawala rackets, killed defaulters and the defiant in cold blood, and took delivery of contraband ferried to the city’s shoreline from Dubai in dhows were not to blame for their crimes — they were victims of an elaborate ‘conspiracy’ against Muslims and an ‘uncaring’ system. Any effort to tame the mafia was resolutely met with howls of protest and cries of ‘Muslims are being targeted’.Few people would remember today that when Mrs Indira Gandhi introduced what was then considered a tough law to fight organised crime and money-laundering under the guise of the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, popularly known as COFEPOSA, she was accused of ‘targeting Muslims’ and trampling on ‘civil liberties’ because most of the high profile arrests were those of Muslim gangsters like Haaji Mastaan. According to an apocryphal story of that time, when the police went to arrest a notorious racketeer in Gujarat’s Jamnagar his henchmen claimed their boss was praying and hence could not be disturbed. When the police insisted on entering the house, a huge crowd gathered to block their way, raising slogans similar to those heard in Jamia Nagar in Delhi after Atif and Sajid, two members of the murderous Indian Mujahideen, were killed in an encounter on September 19. Later it transpired that the wanted man was busy burning incriminating documents; what could not be destroyed, including wads of high denomination currency notes, was cleverly concealed under the burqas of the women in the house.Riding the crest of the ‘Muslims-under-attack’ protest, Haaji Mastaan floated the Muslim Majlis Party; that it sank without a trace soon after bears testimony to the fact that most Indian Muslims are as repelled by criminals who use the cloak of Islam to justify their crimes as the rest of India. If they falter, it is on account of cynical politicians and rabid mullahs, though not necessarily in that order, of the variety that has been travelling to Jamia Nagar and Azamgarh to genuflect at the altar of jihadi Islamism.To take note of the utterances of politicians like Mr Amar Singh and Ms Mamata Banerjee, who have been visiting Jamia Nagar and denigrating the supreme sacrifice of MC Sharma, a Delhi Police anti-terrorism expert, with the sole purpose of instigating a Muslim blowback which they hope will fetch them votes, would be tantamount to elevating them as those worthy of comment. But it would be a grave mistake to ignore the statements of the mullahs because embedded in them is the sinister strategy to radicalise India’s Muslims and thus make them a part of the global surge in Islamism; they also indicate a design to reiterate and reaffirm Muslim separatism anchored in bogus grievances and imagined victimhood.Last Monday, the Ulema Council organised an Ajimoshaan Ehtazazi Ijlaas-e-Aam, a conclave that was attended by 100 Muslim clerics from across the country, where mullahs made two points through their fire-and-brimstone speeches, listened to with rapt attention by 15,000 people. First, Akbar Ahmed ‘Dumpy’, BSP MP from Azamgarh and a former Sanjay Gandhi crony who recently appeared in Parliament with his face covered with an Arabic kaffiyeh much like Osama bin Laden’s foot soldiers, Mr Iliyas Azmi, BSP MP from Shahbad, and Mr Abu Azmi, SP member of Rajya Sabha who openly preaches hate and worse, would not be allowed to enter Azamgarh unless they conveyed to the world the ‘outrage’ over the arrest and killing of Muslims from the district, never mind the fact that they went about setting off bombs in bazaars and hospitals. Second, they “resolved to teach a lesson” to those who had renamed Azamgarh as ‘Atankgarh’: The credit for this goes to the atankwadis or terrorists who seem to flourish in the gullies and mohallahs of Azamgarh but as always, pretending victimhood, the mullahs have sought to place the blame on the victims of the Indian Mujahideen. All this was of a piece with what Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, had said while commiserating with the jihadis of Azamgarh: “We have lost faith in the administration and the police of the country and are feeling insecure.” What was not mentioned but disingenuously implied is that having lost their faith in the Indian state, India’s Muslims must now look elsewhere.But it was Taslim Rehmani, the chief mullah of Muslim Political Council, Delhi, who made the most startling declaration at last Monday’s Ajimoshaan Ehtazazi Ijlaas-e-Aam: He described Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as a “terrorist”. Later, when contacted by this newspaper, he lashed out at Sardar Patel for “forcibly annexing Hyderabad” and reiterated his assertion: “Sardar Patel was responsible for all the riots after Partition, for lakhs of Muslims who were killed in the riots. He deliberately allowed them to be killed. He was a terrorist.”There are those who would scoff at Rehmani as an inconsequential mullah and urge others to ignore his rant. This is the usual response to every offensive statement, each hateful allegation, and all despicable calumny that we get to hear from the spokesmen of the community, berating Hindus, shaming the Indian state, belittling the nation, and denigrating national icons. To listen to the counsel of those who are not perturbed because they do not wish to see their vote-bank go the way of Lehman Brothers would be to toe the line of least resistance. As a nation we must stand up and counter such insidious propaganda that nourishes jihadi Islamism and confront the preachers of hate and peddlers of fiction as fact who masquerade as ‘learned men’, or ulema. To prevaricate would be to delay the inevitable clash between those who are with India and those who are against the idea of India. The cost then would be enormous.
AGENDA Sunday Pioneer, October 26, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Coffee Break/ Kanchan Gupta
As India flounders in its pretentious war on terror and an effete Prime Minister touts the emasculating nuclear deal he has negotiated with the Americans as evidence of his derelict Government’s robust health, a resolute Sri Lanka led by a determined President is on the verge of smashing the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which has terrorised that country for the last 25 years. Reports emanating from the battlefront in the north say that the Sri Lankan Army is within striking distance of Kilinochchi. According to Col R Hariharan, who was the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force during our ill-advised and disastrous entanglement with Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990, “Six divisions of the Sri Lankan Army have gheraoed Kilinochchi. The situation is critical for both sides.” For the beleaguered LTTE chief Prabhakaran this is possibly the last big battle of his life; for a decisive President Mahinda Rajapakse, Kilinochchi is the last barrier to re-establishing Colombo’s authority on Tamil-majority northern Sri Lanka.
Even while you are reading this, the LTTE’s ‘administrative headquarters’ may have fallen and the Sri Lankan Army could well be on its way to Paranthan and Elephant Pass, the strategic land bridge that allows access to Jaffna. Once the battle is over, so shall be the bloody saga of the LTTE which, in the guise of fighting for Tamil minority rights in Sinhalese majority Sri Lanka, has inflicted death and misery on both communities. Jihadis looking for a shortcut to zannat and its nubile houris did not make suicide-bombing fashionable among terrorists; that credit goes to an LTTE ‘Black Tiger’ who blew himself up along with 40 Sri Lankan soldiers on July 5, 1987. Since then, ‘belt-bomb assassins’ have been the LTTE’s main weapon of assault, often resulting in ghastly outrages against civilians. Recall the terrible night of May 21, 1991, when Dhanu, a LTTE suicide bomber, pulled the trigger of her belt-bomb while bending to touch Rajiv Gandhi’s feet at a public meeting in Sriperumbudur.
Whatever be New Delhi’s public posture — preferably studied silence — it should at this moment be hoping, if not praying, for Colombo’s victory. The LTTE is listed as a terrorist organisation in India and Prabhakaran is wanted for ordering Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Since the pusillanimous Government we have at the moment can neither annihilate the LTTE (in fact, it is incapable of busting terrorist sleeper cells on India’s territory) nor bring Prabhakaran to trial, it should rejoice at the sight of the Sri Lankan Government moving close to its goal of making the ‘Tamil Tigers’ an extinct species. Yet, this is not the case. Faced with the prospect of the DMK deserting the Congress-led UPA to show that its sympathies lie with Sri Lanka’s Tamils, who are undoubtedly caught between a rock and a hard place in Colombo’s all-out war against LTTE, it has decided to play the same tattered card that has in the past fetched us nothing but grief.
On the Prime Minister’s instructions, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon summoned Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India CR Jayasinghe and conveyed to him New Delhi’s concern over the “humanitarian situation” in the island nation’s northern region. Lest it be construed as blatant interference in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs, Mr Menon also mentioned New Delhi’s displeasure over the harassment of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. No mention, however, was made of these so-called ‘Indian fishermen’ ferrying fuel and supplies to what Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK boss M Karunanidhi has described as “our brethren”. Mr Menon is believed to have told Mr Jayasinghe that India is “gravely worried over the situation arising out of the conflict” and that “Sri Lanka should ensure the rights of its civilians are respected and they are protected from attacks”.
The airing of the Government’s ‘displeasure’ has not been limited to diplomatic channels. Mr Manmohan Singh and his Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee have also expressed “concern over the situation”, particularly the “humanitarian effect” of the conflict. Mr Singh, sanctimonious as ever, has deemed it fit to express his anguish and demand that Sri Lanka should seek a “negotiated settlement” rather than a “military victory”. Mr Mukherjee, so as not to be seen as lagging behind his Prime Minister, has said India will do everything “in its power” to ensure a political settlement to Sri Lanka’s “ethnic problem”. For good measure, he has added, “It is essential that their (citizen’s) rights be respected, that they be immune from attacks and that food and other essential supplies be allowed to reach them.” On October 6, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan had summoned Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner GGAD Palithaga-negoda and “stressed that Colombo should act with greater restraint and address the growing insecurity in the wake of killing of unarmed people there”.
Such noble thoughts can occur only to those who refuse to learn from history and cannot distinguish between what is good for India and what isn’t. Mr Mukherjee’s comment revives memories of Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to airdrop ‘relief supplies’ on LTTE-controlled Jaffna in June 1987 and thus help Prabhakaran stave off imminent defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army which had laid siege to the peninsula. That was not a humanitarian gesture but an outright military intervention which was to pave the way for Rajiv Gandhi’s subsequent folly by way of the India-Sri Lanka Accord and the despatch of Indian soldiers to that country’s killing fields where many of them died horrendous deaths. That particularly dark chapter of the Congress’s proclivity for misadventure has never been fully made public; the bits and pieces that are known are sufficiently revealing of how horribly wrong Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers were in framing India’s response. We appear to be on the verge of repeating that ghastly mistake.
It is unlikely that Colombo will be bothered about New Delhi’s treacly concern “over the situation” or be impressed by Mr Singh’s demand for a “negotiated settlement”. What is more than likely is that those who view India’s claim on Jammu & Kashmir as that of an ‘occupying force’ will quote Mr Singh to express their concern over the situation in the Kashmir Valley and demand a ‘negotiated settlement’. And if one of them decides to airdrop ‘relief supplies’ to ease the plight of Kashmiri separatists and terrorists we will be expected to treat it as a ‘humanitarian gesture’. It may not be entirely incorrect to suggest that those who have short-changed the country on the nuclear deal are now preparing the ground for such intervention.
AGENDA | Sunday Pioneer, October 19, 2008
Coffee Break/ Kanchan Gupta
Since news from the United Nations rarely finds space in our newspapers or mention on television news, not many people are aware of the fact that on October 17 the General Assembly is scheduled to select five countries as non-permanent members of the Security Council for a two-year term beginning 2009. Among the competitors for the Asian seat are Iran and Japan. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Japan is the natural choice, but P5 politics, which determines the course of events in the General Assembly and the Security Council, is driven by factors that have little to do with logic or reason, leave alone global concerns. Hence, it is not surprising that China, which is reluctant to see Japan sharing space at the Horse Shoe Table, is believed to be slyly campaigning for Iran's membership. Beijing's economic and energy interests take precedence over those of the region, hence it is not bothered about Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons nor is it concerned about the implications of such lethal acquisition.
Russia, after effectively blocking any further action against Iran despite new damning evidence, this time collated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which shows Tehran is close to stockpiling sufficient weapons-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb, is lobbying for Iranian representation in the Security Council. Moscow is clearly motivated by the urge to poke Washington in the eye and the strategic imperative to regain space in what the Americans now refer to as the 'extended Middle East'. As the contours of a looming 21st century Cold War take shape, a resurgent Russia sees President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran as a substitute for Gamel Abdal Nasser's Egypt. The Kremlin's claim that it has put off the planned supply of state-of-the-art military hardware to Tehran need not be taken seriously.
If, and it is admittedly a very big if, Iran does make it to the Security Council as a non-permanent member, it would be a mockery of all that the UN professes it stands for. Iran has not only violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory, it has also held up the IAEA to ridicule, refusing to abide by any of its rules. The Security Council has passed three resolutions imposing trade sanctions on Iran to bring it to heel; thanks to Russia and China, the efforts have gone to waste. That the sanctions have had no deterrent effect can be gauged from the contents of the latest IAEA report, which says, "As of 30 August 2008, 5930 kg of uranium hexafluoride had been fed into the operating cascades since 12 December 2007... This brings the total amount of uranium hexafluoride fed into the cascades since the beginning of operations in February 2007 to 7600 kg. Based on Iran's daily operating records, as of 30 August 2008, Iran had produced approximately 480 kg of low enriched uranium hexafluoride."
Strategic affairs experts say this means "under optimal conditions, Iran could use between 700 and 800 kg of low enriched uranium to produce 20-25 kg of weapons grade uranium, enough for a crude fission weapon". Gary Milhollin of Iran Watch, writing in the New York Times, has predicted that Iran will have the low-enriched uranium necessary to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb by mid-January 2009. There is further evidence to suggest Iran is not too far from putting together a weapon of mass destruction -- recently it tested long-range missiles and tried to retrofit them to carry nuclear warheads. If you are still unconvinced, you only have to read the text of Mr Ahmadinejad's rabid, rabble-rousing speech at the General Assembly on September 26 in which he has reiterated Iran's determination to forge ahead with its uranium enrichment programme.
But Iran's violation of the NPT, its taunting refusal to abide by the IAEA's rules although it is legally bound to do so, and its seemingly inexorable march towards manufacturing the second 'Islamic Bomb' -- credit for the first goes to international smuggler (and later peddler) of nuclear know-how AQ Khan of Pakistan -- are not the only reasons why it is undeserving of being allowed entry into the Security Council. Mr Ahmadinejad's opening lines while addressing the General Assembly -- "Oh God, hasten the arrival of Imam Al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his rightfulness" -- were the least offensive of what he said that day. Deliberately ignoring the UN Charter, he misused the platform to indulge in rank anti-Semitism and heap abuse on Jews and Zionists, making a spectacle of his deep-seated hatred of the Jewish people. "The Zionist regime is on a slope to decline," he thundered, adding its disappearance is inevitable. It was of a piece with his repeated threats to "wipe Israel off the map" and his appalling denial of the Holocaust; worse, in a replay of crude Nazi propaganda to generate hatred towards Jews, he claimed that "a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists" dominate financial and political centres in Europe and the United States in "a deceitful, complex and furtive manner".
Sadly, the gathered assembly of world leaders listened to a fanatic's rant without so much as a whimper of protest; if Mr Ahmadinejad's appearance in the UN was a shame, the silence that followed his hate-filled speech was shameful. It required Israel's President Shimon Peres, incandescent with rage, to point out, "He is a disgrace to the ancient Iranian people. He is a disgrace to the values of Islam. He is a disgrace to this very house, the United Nations, its basic principles and values."
There's a third reason why Iran, so long as it is led by a fanatic anti-Semite in pursuit of illicit nuclear weapons, must be denied a place in the Security Council. Mr Ahmadinejad is directly responsible for promoting, funding and aiding Islamist terrorism. He has converted Hizbullah into a fearsome Islamist militia and divided Lebanon. He has made Hamas into what it is today, dividing the Palestinian territory and thus making a two-state solution that much more difficult to achieve. He is now trying to scuttle the Iraq defence plan since it does not envisage absolute power for the Shia militias he has nourished with the sole purpose of becoming the arbiter of that country's fate. He is a threat to not only those whom he derisively describes as 'Zionists' but also to all of 'extended Middle East' -- unless halted, he can unleash a fierce and bloody battle for supremacy in Sunni-majority West Asia and North Africa. The doors of the Security Council should remain firmly shut to Iran till such time it disowns Mr Ahmadinejad and discards forever his nuclear weapons programme.
AGENDA | Sunday Pioneer, October 12, 2008
Coffee Break/ Kanchan Gupta
It wasn't a lachrymose but a disappointed Ratan Tata who on Friday announced the "unfortunate and painful" decision of Tata Motors to pull out of West Bengal and shift its Nano project from Singur to a State not blessed by the presence of Ms Mamata Banerjee and plagued by her antediluvian politics. Nor was Mr Tata being needlessly melodramatic when, recalling his earlier declaration that he was determined to stay put in Singur and would not move out even if a gun were to be pointed at his head, he said, "I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger." Questions have been raised in the past as to whether the often-violent agitation led by Ms Banerjee, which has forced the Tata Group to abandon its Rs 1,500 crore project and dampened investor confidence in West Bengal, was entirely sustained by her grit and the brawn of Trinamool Congress supporters. By reiterating that a business rival may have funded the anti-Nano agitation, Mr Tata has revived those questions. Ms Banerjee will no doubt wave the slur away as no more than a canard to discredit her, but that won't silence her critics, of whom there are many -- the majority does not necessarily support the CPI(M).
Ms Banerjee's reaction to Tata Motors' formal decision to shift the Nano project, which was to have been the showpiece of 'New Bengal' meant to enthuse potential investors, out of Singur has been predictable. "It hardly matters to us. It is a joint gameplan of the CPI(M) and the Tatas to leave ... The allegation that our agitation was violent is bogus," she told her faithful. Only they would believe such bunkum -- there cannot be a "joint gameplan" because neither the CPI(M) nor the Tata Group stands to gain from Friday's decision; as for the agitation not being violent, it's her claim versus hard evidence to the contrary. But Ms Banerjee is being truthful when she says "it hardly matters to us". She and her party, as well as the rag-tag coalition of Naxalites past their revolutionary prime and Ford Foundation-funded subversives with whose help she has succeeded in 'pulling the trigger' not only on Mr Tata but also West Bengal's future, loathe the very idea of industrialisation and its concomitant prosperity for the masses. If the poor would cease to be poor, compulsive and professional agitators would find themselves twiddling their thumbs far away from the glare of television cameras. That's not a very happy prospect for either Ms Banerjee or those who mimic Arundhati Roy.
It could be argued that perhaps Mr Tata has been too hasty, that he should have been more pragmatic and cut a deal with Ms Banerjee. After all business, like politics, is about being sensitive to local realities and making compromises. Kalimati would not have become Jamshedpur had Sir Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata been impatient and impractical. His correspondence with his sons, Sir Dorab Tata and Sir Ratan Tata, bears testimony to his insistence that enterprise cannot be devoid of the human factor. In the closing decades of the 19th century, Sir Jamsetji believed that India's poverty was not on account of its lack of abilities but due to the lack of opportunities, and he set himself to the task of creating those opportunities. More than a century later, Mr Ratan Tata can claim that he too believes -- or should it be believed? -- West Bengal's poverty is not on account of the Bengalis' lack of abilities but due to the lack of opportunities, and that he tried to create those opportunities through the now-abandoned Nano project. No, it's not about altruism alone -- Sir Jamsetji never lost sight of profits; there is no reason why his descendant should be indifferent to the profit motive. Unlike many other entrepreneurs who couldn't give a damn about shareholders, Mr Tata has repeatedly asserted that he has to be mindful of their interests.
And it is this insistence on not short-changing those whose money is at stake -- shareholders, financial institutions and the Tata Group -- that forced him to take the "painful decision" to opt out of Singur. Persisting with the project would have meant dealing with agitators and those who revel in fomenting discontent; a settlement with the few farmers who have held out was no guarantee of peace in the future. Like Banquo's ghost, Ms Banerjee's shadow would have loomed large on Singur for a long time to come. More importantly, despite the efforts of a goody-two-shoes Governor to broker a settlement and a recalcitrant CPI(M) willing to climb down from its high papier-m?ch? horse, a deal really was impossible to achieve, made doubly impossible by Ms Banerjee's insistence that either she should have her way or Tata Motors should pack up and leave. The last of the farmers holding out against the West Bengal Government's compensation package had agreed to a land-for-land deal along with enhanced monetary compensation. Ms Banerjee would have nothing of it: She insisted that they must be returned their land. That, Mr Tata said, was not possible because it would scupper the project, being set up on 600 acres of land, which was dependent on dedicated vendor units located in its close proximity on the remaining 397 acres of land. That's how Nano remains cheap. Ms Banerjee was not interested in a solution; she wanted to celebrate the departure of Tata Motors as her victory over big capital, just as CPI(M) leaders had celebrated every time an industrial unit was shut down and workers rendered jobless in the 1960s and 1970s -- by the 1980s, there were no more factories left to shut down and West Bengal's economy had shrunk to Burrabazar. So, the Nano project had to go.
Thereby hangs the tragic tale of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's ambitious plan to rejuvenate industry and attract investors. Despite his emotive slogan of 'Do It Now' and valiant efforts to refashion West Bengal's moribund economy by forcing a shift from agriculture to industry, Mr Bhattacharjee is now left looking as pathetic and pitiful as his favourite poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. His predecessor and veteran Marxist Jyoti Basu, I am sure, is smirking. The man who is responsible for turning West Bengal into a sprawling industrial wasteland was aghast at the thought of industry returning to the disinherited State. With Tata Motors pulling out and potential investors signalling their intention to look elsewhere, he can now rest easy -- his legacy shall remain untouched, undented. Neither Mr Basu nor Ms Banerjee could have hoped for a happier Durga Puja as the faint flicker of hope is extinguished in homes across West Bengal.
AGENDA | Sunday Pioneer, October 5, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Kaffiyeh and the kafir
Friends, you must have seen these images (published in newspapers) which show three Muslim boys arrested in Delhi as 'terrorists' wearing the Arab headgear usually called Arab rumal..." This is an excerpt from an e-mail circulated earlier this week by Muslims outraged by visuals of three of their co-religionists, arrested after the September 19 raid on Jamia Nagar and suspected of being members of the terrorist organisation, Indian Mujahideen, being produced in court by Delhi Police. The outrage is over the claimed 'stereotyping' of Muslims as well as identifying what has been referred to in the e-mail as the 'Arab scarf' or 'Arab rumal' with Islamic fanaticism and jihadi terrorism.The 'Arab scarf' or 'Arab rumal' is the kaffiyeh which has three variants. The white kaffiyeh, with tassels that designate the social status of an individual, is worn by sheikhs with claims to nobility and is part of the dress code that sets the Arab palace apart from the Arab street. Colonel TE Lawrence, better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia', wore one, keeping in mind his exalted status. Rudolph Valentino made a fashion statement of sorts by wearing the white kaffiyeh in the 1921 silent film, The Sheik as part of his costume. Both Lawrence and Valentino contributed to the stereotyping of the Arab sheikh who would otherwise not be seen wearing a kaffiyeh in Monaco, Cote de Azure or the sleazy nightclubs of Phuket. But this version of the kaffiyeh need not distract us.What is of interest are the black-and-white and red-and-white chequered variants of the kaffiyeh. The first gained global prominence when Palestinian terrorists adopted it as a statement of their faith, initially in Palestinian nationalism and later in radical Islamism. Contrary to popular belief, it was not Yasser Arafat who made the once humble peasant and Bedouin headgear, meant to keep the scorching desert sun out, into a badge of Palestinian identity. That honour must go to Leila Khaled, a leading light of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was among the hijackers of TWA Flight 840. The flight from Rome to Athens was diverted to Damascus where it was blown up in a spectacular display of Palestinian fury. That was in August 1969. Leila Khaled tried to hijack an El Al flight from Amsterdam to New York on September 6, 1970, but was overpowered and captured by Israeli skymarshals.Between the hijacking of the TWA flight and her failed attempt to hijack an El Al flight, Leila Khaled became an icon of the Palestinian movement which by then had begun to embrace terrorism to further its agenda. The celebrated black-and-white photograph of Leila Khaled the Palestinian terrorist, which became the leitmotif of PFLP posters and Arab propaganda, reproduced here, shows her wearing a black-and-white chequered kaffiyeh and holding an assault rifle, a 1960s version of the Kalashnikov. Her demure appearance is as deceptive as the Orkut profiles of the Indian Mujahideen cadre -- between the perception and the reality lurks the mind of a terrorist who can slaughter innocent people without batting an eyelid. Little or no purpose is served by pondering over appearances and educational qualifications -- Mohammed Atta was a brilliant student of architecture at Cairo University and was rated highly by his teachers at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg -- or sympathising with parents who are unable to accept the bitter truth about their children having grown up into pitiless monsters.But let us return to the black-and-white chequered kaffiyeh. Arafat, taking a cue from Leila Khaled, was quick to realise the potential of the kaffiyeh as a visible, photogenic statement of Palestinian aspirations. After the first intifada inspired by his belligerence and the second intifada fuelled by the deadly cocktail of anti-semitism and Islamic fanaticism that forms the core of the ideology of hate preached by Hamas, the black-and-white chequered kaffiyeh evolved into an abiding symbol of 'Palestinian Islamism'. There is nothing innocent or demure about those who flaunt it -- it is an aggressive, often terrifying, assertion of militant Islam; for good measure, the Al Aqsa mosque has been incorporated into the chequered design of the kaffiyeh as a declaration of the final objective of those who wear it. Arafat's stylish arrangement of the kaffiyeh so as to form a triangle symbolising the Palestinian state as perceieved by Fatah, now exists only in fading memories of the man who gave political legitimacy to Islamic terrorism.Which brings us to the third variant of the kaffiyeh -- the red-and-white chequered version which is referred to as an "Arab rumal" by Muslims in India. Like the burqa -- referred to as the "Arab purdah" -- it has been popularised by the Tablighi Jamaat and adopted by many of India's Muslims, especially the clergy, to announce their religious identity and their allegiance to Wahaabi Islam. In Saudi Arabia, minor clerics and the muttaween, the religious police or members of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who patrol the streets to crudely enforce shari'ah, wear the read-and-white chequered kaffiyeh, as do commoners.But those in India who have adopted this variant of the kaffiyeh -- you will find many of them in Muslim ghettos like Jamia Nagar and the area around Jama Masjid, as also in places as far apart as Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh and Malappuram in Kerala -- are not inspired by the Arab street. They identify it with Islam and the Arab origin of their faith. For them the kaffiyeh is a bridge that transports them from the reality in which they exist -- as a minority community of believers among the kafirs of Hindu majority India -- to that which they aspire for: An Islamic state, a Nizam-e-Mustafa, where shari'ah shall rule supreme.The kaffiyeh in India is a physical manifestation of the ongoing silent transformation of the country's Muslims. We do not get to see the changes that are taking place in their personal lives, the fanaticism that is rapidly replacing faith, the social codes that are being introduced to bring India's Muslim society in conformity with that which is held up by mullahs and maulvis as 'desirable' and 'sanctioned' by Islam, the precedence given to the Muslim ummah over the secular Indian nation. We occasionally get to read about an Imrana and a Gudiya, but such stories do not reflect the churning that is taking place, the rapidly increasing number of educated Muslims who, instead of logically pursuing the good life ensured by good jobs assured by their professional qualifications, are eager to throw it all away to serve what they are told, and convinced, is the 'cause' of Islam. For evidence, look at the profiles of the young men who have been arrested so far for their role in the horrific bombings in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi, and probably also the earlier terror attacks in Mumbai and Hyderabad.There are two possible responses to this reality. Like most Muslims, we can slip into denial mode and refuse to acknowledge the harsh truth. We can lash out at Delhi Police for draping the faces of suspected terrorists with red-and-white chequered kaffiyeh and denounce the 'stereotyping' of Muslims. There are those who will discover merit in the demand that there should be no police raids on Muslim ghettos without consulting the community and taking it into confidence. They would also subscribe to the view that a commission should be set up to prove that the terrorists who bomb India's cities are "not Muslims" -- in other words, an inquiry with a predetermined finding!Or we could confront the truth and work towards halting the spread of radical Islamism and preventing an entire community from lurching towards fanaticism and embracing the sordid symbols of Wahaabi intolerance, for example the kaffiyeh or the "Arab rumal", which has fetched nothing but grief wherever it has been allowed to flourish. This is a task that cannot be left to compromised individuals like the Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia who, to prove his credentials with the extremists, has offered to siphon public funds to defend those accused of terrorism. The state must step in with its full might, and uphold the secular principles of our republic where the kaffiyeh and all that it symbolises clashes violently with the idea of India.
The Pioneer [OPED] Friday, September 26, 2008