India Salutes Comrade Basu’s Memory

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Jyoti Basu is no more but the incomparable stamp left by communist patriarch on politics of the country and West Bengal cannot be ever erased away. Ninety-five year old Basu breathed his last this Sunday at a hospital in Kolkata, where he was admitted earlier this month after he complained of uneasiness. Described as a “political legend,” Basu towered over West Bengal’s politics as the longest serving Chief Minister, for a record period of 23 years, from 1977 till 2000. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led state government, with Basu as Chief Minister, spelt emergence of Left Front for the first time at the helm in West Bengal.

Basu is credited for championing the cause of farmers, giving them a political voice through the Panchayati Raj (decentralization of political power to the village-level) and by effectively implementing land reforms. He is remembered for restoring political stability in West Bengal which had faced severe disturbance in 1970s from Maoist insurgency. His political policy of forming a coalition government in West Bengal is there to stay at the national level for perhaps a long time to come. It led to like-minded parties come together as a third alternative to Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late eighties and nineties. Though the third alternative did not make much of a political impact, the strategy of forming coalition governments remains in the lead till date. Initially known to be strongly anti-Congress, Basu’s secular inclination led to the Left Front give external support to the Congress-led coalition government in 2004 to keep BJP out of power.

Secular ideals followed by Basu restricted communal forces from entering West Bengal. This stood out markedly when as the Chief Minister, Basu played a firm role in not allowing any disturbance in West Bengal when anti-Sikh violence surfaced following assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and when communal riots spread across the nation over demolition of Babari Masji by extremist Hindus in December 1992.

Though a leftist to the core, who was first introduced to this ideology while studying law in United Kingdom, Basu is also remembered for not being averse to capitalism and attracting foreign investment to West Bengal. On this, he stated: “We want capital, both foreign and domestic. After all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now.”

Not surprisingly, the political icon was close to becoming the country’s first Left-bloc Prime Minister in 1996, as the head of United Front coalition government. His party, however, declined to take over power, a decision to which he yielded even though he criticized it as “historic blunder.” The CPI-M viewed his criticism as his “personal” opinion. Though he never held the office of the Prime Minister, Basu is remembered for being a guide on several crucial issues to many prime ministers. During the late eighties, he succeeded in convincing late premier Rajiv Gandhi on forming a hill council to restore peace in Darjeeling, where an agitation was on for a separate state.

In her condolence message, addressed to his son, Chandan Basu, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi stated: “We continued to count on him for his wise counsel even after he retired from political life.” “Together with Indiraji and Rajivji, I held him in the highest esteem. I have warmest memories of our many meetings – of his charm and grace and his deep humanity.” Describing him as “a tireless crusader against communalism, fundamentalism, casteism and all kinds of obscurantism; a warrior for social justice and equality and for the eradication of poverty; a true patriot who always put the national interest above all else,” Gandhi said: “He was a towering figure of our national life, whose noble vision, superb judgment and depth of experience was valued greatly.”

“In the years after he relinquished the Chief Ministership, he continued to be looked upon as an elder statesman, whose advice was sought by many political leaders in the state,” President Pratibha Patil said in her condolence message. “In his passing away, the nation has lost a veteran and an eminent public figure,” Patil said.

Expressing grief, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his condolence message that Basu’s “passing away” “marks the end of an era in annals of Indian politics.” “He was a powerful regional voice in the national political scene and helped to strengthen Indian federalism,” Singh said. “On many occasions in my career, I turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance. His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career,” Singh said.

The condolence resolution of CPI-M Polit Bureau expressed “profound grief at passing away of Comrade Basu.” Though he stepped down from Chief Ministership in 2000 due to health reasons, “he continued to work and discharge responsibilities till the end of his life.” “The Left movement in the country was fortunate in having such an accomplished and dedicated leader at helm of affairs in West Bengal and in leadership of CPI-M for such a long time… The Polit Bureau salutes the memory of our beloved departed comrade.”

Tributes and condolence messages poured in from all over the country, with few states declaring a state mourning as a mark of respect. West Bengal government announced a three-day state mourning. Expressing grief, former prime minister and senior BJP leader Atal Bihar Vajpayee said that his demise had “ended a chapter in country’s politics.”

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AFMI’s Educational Mission: A Success

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

(A Press Note with photographs and a few comments of AFMI delegates)

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Delegates of American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) wrapped up their India-visit last week (January 10) on a satisfactory note. AFMI has been engaged for more than two decades in promoting literacy among Indian Muslims by establishing and/or aiding the existing educational institutions. As a part of its aim to achieve 100 percent literacy rate, the AFMI delegates hold an international convention every year in a different city of the country. This is followed by zonal conventions in several areas. Since the early 1990s, the AFMI has awarded medals (gold, silver & bronze), certificates and cash prizes to students having scored high percentage in Class 10th and 12th board examinations. While recipients of the awards are selected from across the country for the international convention, the zonal convention includes students of that particular zone.

Expressing satisfaction with increase in literacy rate of Indian Muslims, its key founder member, Dr. A.S. Nakadar said: “AFMI has made a difference.” Literacy among Muslims has increased by 60%, with 2008 being witness to greater upward trend than earlier, he said. He drew attention to increasing number of Muslim students scoring above 90%. Besides, Nakadar pointed to Muslim applicants to “higher educational institutions being higher than before.” He supported this point by referring to 50% quota in Muslim-minority educational institutions being now filled by Muslim students, which “earlier was not the case.” Nakadar, a retired cardiologist in Detroit, Michigan, visits India regularly to pursue AFMI’s literacy mission.

A key recipient of AFMI’s aid is Mijwan Welfare Society run by actor Shabana Azmi in the town called Mijwan (Uttar Pradesh), from where her father- renowned poet late Kaifi Azmi hailed. Azmi showed AFMI delegates the areas in which the students of this institution are engaged in. She expressed the need to further expand this organization with possible aid from AFMI, which is under consideration. The AFMI delegates were here last Thursday (January 8). AFMI delegates addressed the Zonal Educational Conference at Shibli National Inter-College, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh the same afternoon.

The two-day international convention was held (January 2-3) at Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Among Indian dignitaries who addressed AFMI’s 18th annual convention were Union Minister of State for Corporate and Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Salman Khursheed, Justice MSA Siddiqui, Chairman National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Mayor of Indore Krishna Murari Moghe and others. It was the first international conference to be held in Indore this century. It was also the first one, where people from diverse political backgrounds, spoke only on importance of enhancing the literary rate of India’s largest minority community- the Muslims.

The Indore convention was followed by a tour of several towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh, with Amroha being the first to be visited by AFMI delegates (January 5). They addressed the Zonal Educational Conference at the institution run by Hakeem Sirajuddin Hashmi. AFMI delegates addressed a similar conference at Hira Public School at Hanswar (January 6).

Summing up his opinion, AFMI President Dr. Iqbal Ahmed expressed that though “Indian Muslims have developed the awareness about importance of education,” “poverty remains a major hindrance in achieving education.” He cited instances of people who had approached him in Indore about their children having secured admission to B. Tech but were dropped as their loan application was rejected by banks. “Rich segments of Muslims, Wakf boards and other Muslim groups must come forward and share the responsibility,” he said. Ahmed is a medical doctor (gastro-enetrology) in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr. Shakir Mukhi, also a medical doctor (New York) said that AFMI delegates were “impressed” by increase in involvement of Muslims in pursuing higher education. Describing AFMI awards for bright students as providing the needed “incentive” to students to move forward, he said that AFMI plans to come forward with more incentives to help students and educational institutions pursue higher goals.    

Reflecting on AFMI’s achievements in UP alone, Ali Quraishi said: “We strengthened about 25 schools and built two new ones. It is not easy to complete this job.” Nevertheless, expressing confidence, he said: “AFMI’s aim is to promote education among Muslims so that no child is left behind. Our aim is to specially educate female students to help educate a whole family.” Quraishi, runs a business in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has built a number of educational institutions in Pune, Mumbai and elsewhere.

Psychiatrist Dr. Razia Ahmed (Cleveland, Ohio) said: “I am proud of AFMI which has definitely contributed to increasing awareness of importance of education among the Muslim community.” Laying emphasis on the need of involvement of other organizations to help in progress of Indian Muslims, she said: “I wish everyone joins us (AFMI) for this cause.”

During their India-visit, the AFMI delegates also met several leaders, including Ahmed Patel (Congress). They voiced their concern about “plight” of Muslim community in Gujarat. In a letter addressed to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, AFMI stated: “The Muslim community in Gujarat feels that opportunities that ideally should be available to all communities are denied to it because of its religious identity. Obstacles are created in its way to establish new educational institutions. State grant is not available to deserving institutions and meritorious students are discriminated in scholarship. In fact, the state government has failed to disburse the full Federal scholarship and grant money to deserving students which they were promised.” The letter also states: “The delegates of AFMI strongly feel that implementation of Mishra Commission as well as Sachar Commission” reports “would pave the way for ensuring rights of minorities in Gujarat in all walks of life.”

The signatories to the letter addressed to Congress chief include the AFMI delegates visiting India. These include Dr A.S. Nakadar (AFMI-Trustee), Dr. Aslam Abdullah (Trustee), Dr. Iqbal Ahmed (AFMI President), Dr. Shakir Mukhi (former AFMI President), Sheikh Muhammed Quraishi (former President) and AFMI members from various parts of USA and Canada. These are: Rizwana Quraishi (New Mexico), Dr. Razia Ahmed (Ohio), Dr. Khalid Khan (Nevada), Dr. Abdul Aziz (Florida), Dr. S. Ashraf (Washington DC), Dr. W. Baig (Ohio), Dr. Shahida Akhtar (Florida0, Dr Abdur Razzak (Massachusetts) and Mr & Mrs Gahffar Shaikh from Canada.

AFMI’s next international convention is scheduled to be held this December in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

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Aamir Khan Adds Gandhian Touch To His Campaign In Gujarat

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI:  Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has certainly taken a lead over politicians where his publicity campaign for his latest movie, “3 Idiots” is concerned. He has literally gone to the people, mingled with them and then surprised them by revealing his real identity. The silent message sent by this style of campaigning cannot be missed. The message stands out by the actor giving minimal importance to religious, regional as well as other socio-economic differences which are in contrast highlighted prominently by politicians when they try reaching out to the common people for their votes. This does not imply that the star has seldom given importance to communal tactics of Indian politicians. In fact, he earned a strong criticism in several quarters for having earlier criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi for Gujarat carnage and supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (movement). Soon after Aamir criticized Modi in 2006, activists supporting Modi started persuading theater owners in Gujarat not to release his movies- “Fanaa” and “Taare Zameen Par.” They also demanded an apology from Aamir for his “anti-Gujarat” stand on NBA and his “anti-Narendra Modi” remarks. The actor had since stopped visiting Gujarat and had also refused to change his opinion on the two issues- NBA and Gujarat-carnage.

To a question on his stand, Aamir had said: “I had said that people killed in Godhra and its aftermath were not Hindus or Muslims for me. They were Indians, and whoever was responsible for the carnage was anti-Indian and anti-national. If that was the reason for this (ban on his movies), so be it.” On the financial losses that the ban spelt, accepting that they would be “huge,” he said: “And what about people losing their land and houses? I think that is a far bigger, deeper issue.” When questioned on whether he would apologize for his stand, he replied: “What should I apologize for? What wrong have I done? I am happy and proud of what I did.”

Against this backdrop, the nature of Aamir’s recent visit to Gujarat, the first since he faced the backlash, stands out. The actor apparently deliberately selected Lok Niketan Vinay Mandir, a small school in Palanpur village, about 135 km from Ahmedabad in Banaskantha district. The school is run on Gandhian principles, where the students weave their own khadi uniform. Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, the actor entered the school at around noon last Thursday (December 17). Initially, nobody recognized him, but when they did, the teachers and students were pleasantly surprised. After a discussion with the school principal, Aamir interacted with students from class seventh to tenth. He heard a student sing a song, talked to students about their dreams, played cricket with them and also shared food from a girl’s lunch box, cooked by her grandmother. When a student showed Aamir, the star’s photo that he kept in his pocket, he picked him up and kissed him. He gifted the school two golden rings, two cricket balls, six tennis balls, one volley ball, two footballs and four tickets of the film premier with air tickets. The school felicitated him with a khadi garland.

Earlier, when questioned on his plans against his ban of his movies in Gujarat, Aamir had replied: “There are many avenues I could take recourse to. There is the legal option, I could seek help from the film industry and the various film associations, but on this issue I want the people to decide. The people should decide if this is the kind of political party they want.” Criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using “brute force,” with “no value for human life,” he had said: “In life, nothing is in our control. The maximum we can do is to do what we believe is right. I strongly believe that each one of us has to fulfill our karma, to do what he or she feels is right. The BJP should do what it feels is right, the people of Gujarat and India should do what they feel is right.”

Undeniably, Aamir’s visit to Lok Niketan school was a part of his two-week nation-wide campaign to promote his movie. Among the other places, the actor has suddenly turned up at, include Kolkata (West Bengal), Jaipur (Rajasthan), a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and an unknown village near Faridkot in Punjab. The subtle message conveyed by his deliberately including a Gujarati-school run on Gandhian principles cannot be missed. He still remains hopeful and optimistic that secularism and Gandhian principles cannot be easily defeated even by communal atrocities, such as the Gujarat-carnage. While at the school, Aamir said that he wanted to “try and imbibe Gandhian values.” This was apparently his style of making people aware about the importance of Gandhian principles. A visit to the small school was not binding on the star. If he wished, he could have stayed out of Gujarat even now. But he did not. Rather, as is evident, he planned his Gujarat-visit to let the school run on Gandhian principles hit the headlines and gain substantial media coverage. The move has given his old critics (Modi-supporters) virtually no time or even reason to question his “campaign.”  

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Babari Masjid: As Politicians “Clash,” People Remain Calm

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Politically, the Indian public appears to be far more matured and secular than the politicians. This was marked by the 17th anniversary of demolition of Babari Masjid (December 6) being witness to primarily only political activists expressing their respective stands on the controversial issue, while the common people decided to remain away from the same. It would be erroneous to assume that the people have been unaware about politicians raking the issue again. The issue hit the headlines recently with the Liberhan Commission report being tabled in the Parliament (November 24). The commission led by retired Indian Supreme Court Judge M.S. Liberhan was formed on December 16, 1992 to investigate the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 and the accompanying riots. It has taken the commission 17 years, 48 extensions, to finally submit the report to PM Manmohan Singh on June 30, 2009. A day ahead of it being tabled in the Parliament, contents of the commission’s report leaked to the media leading the politicians to level charges against each other over the leak and also the demolition.

Despite the legislators raising a row over the issue in the Parliament as well as through the media, the Indian people have not allowed themselves to be provoked to a stage of any communal frenzy in any part of the country. Though the 17th anniversary was witness to demonstrations in different parts of the country, including the capital city and Ayodhya, by and large, the day passed peacefully. While several Muslim organizations observed the anniversary as “Black Day,” the Hindu organizations marked it as “Victory Day.” There was tight security in Delhi and other parts of the country.

Ironically, though Parliament Street saw different groups assembling to voice their demands on the issue, they confined themselves to their associates and did not clash with each other. Among groups which voiced their stands at Parliament Street were All India Babari Masjid Rebuilding Committee (AIBMRC), Popular Front of India (PFI), Shiv Sena and Hindu Mahasabha. While the Muslim groups (AIBMRC and PFI) demanded action against those responsible for the demolition, Shiv Sena and Hindu Mahasabha claimed that Liberhan Commission’s report would only strengthen their movement.   

“Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and others mentioned as culprits should be arrested and tried on a fast-track basis. Legal action is necessary against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena clique because they violated the law of the land and caused great harm to the secular image of India,” AIBMRC President Mohammed Younus Siddiqui said. The AIBMRC also submitted a memo to President Pratibha Patil for “time-bound and binding” decision on the Ayodhya issue by Supreme Court under Article 138-B of the Constitution.

During its demonstration at Jantar Mantar, the PFI demanded that Election Commission should cancel BJP’s recognition as a political party for its role in the Babari Masjid’s demolition. “The ECI should scrap BJP’s political recognition. We also demand that the Congress fulfill its promise of rebuilding the mosque,” PFI leader K.M. Shareef said.

Blaming the Congress-led government for playing with “sentiments of Hindu community,” Pandit Nandkishore Mishra, national working president of Hindu Mahasabha said: “Our movement has become stronger in the wake of the Liberhan Commission’s report being made public, which is nothing but a bundle of lies.”
The week began with the Lok Sabha debating on the controversial issue (December 7) under the non-voting Rule 193.  The debate had been postponed twice earlier due to non-availability of the Hindi version of Liberhan Commission’s report. Before the debate began, Speaker Meira Kumar asked the members to present their views in the most “dispassionate manner,” with it being a “politically sensitive” issue. Ironically, while the Lok Sabha was witness to parliamentarians going overboard to assert their stand on the issue, the people at large displayed a passive approach towards the same. The people have apparently sensed that irrespective of what the different political parties’ stand is on the controversial issue, their primary aim is to exploit it politically. Thus as politicians debated strongly and passionately in the Parliament, the common Indian remained unmoved by this political drama despite it being given a new turn by Liberhan Commission’s report.

Initiating the debate, Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) wondered as to how to could a fundamentalist party lead to the demolition despite the Congress being in power at the center. When the mosque was demolished, Uttar Pradesh government was led by BJP, with Kalyan Singh (then a BJP member) as the chief minister, while P.V. Narsimha Rao (Congress) was the Prime Minister. “We were put to shame (by the demolition),” Dasgupta said. The demolition was a result of meticulous planning, he said. The nation wanted to know, he said:  “Why the disaster could not be prevented? Why the criminals could not be held in jail? Why did the political system fail?”

During his speech, BJP president dismissed Liberhan Commission report as a “political document” which was “baseless, biased and prejudiced” based on assumptions and presumptions.

Congress leader Jagdambika Pal laid stress on need of taking steps to ensure that such a tragic and shameful incident does not take place again. He blamed BJP for exploiting the issue not for religious reasons but to consolidate its vote bank by provoking communal fire. “It is necessary to protect our pillars of secularism and democracy. Besides, there are bigger issues like that of unemployment, staring in the face of the nation,” Pal said.

The hard-core political rivals in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had a similar stand on the issue. Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) held both the BJP and Congress responsible for the demolition. BSP leader Dara Singh Chohan went a step further, holding both BJP and Congress as responsible for the demolition and alleging that they had prepared the Liberhan Commission report jointly.

Seventeen years have passed, during which the Indian voters have matured enough not to be taken for a ride by communal passion being raised by politicians over a highly sensitive issue. Sadly, as displayed by the uproar raised in the Parliament over the Liberhan Commission report, the politicians have not yet learnt this!

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Indo-Azerbaijan Ties With a Filmy & Romantic Touch!

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Bollywood icons, particularly Raj Kapoor and Nargis, may be viewed as actors of the past by Indian society, they still remain a favorite in Azerbaijan. This was revealed by members of Azerbaijani delegation who were in India last week. Led by Huseyn Bagirov, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, the delegation was here for the first meeting of India-Azerbaijan Intergovernmental Commission, which was held on 26th November. The Indian side was led by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya M. Scindia. Though held after being postponed a few times, the meeting is viewed by both sides as a major milestone in strengthening India-Azerbaijan ties. On sidelines of the meeting, members from both sides dismissed the delay in the meeting as an insignificant issue. Rather, they gave emphasis to the meeting being held, which they were “absolutely confident” would enhance their bilateral ties.

During their meeting, held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and traditional friendship,” the two sides “exchanged information on the current economic situation in their respective countries and opportunities that exist for further development of bilateral economic relationship,” sources said. They agreed to deliberate on measures to be “undertaken to increase the volume of bilateral trade on a balanced basis and to widen the trade basket of bilateral trade for mutual benefit.”  India is keen on entering into a long term contract with Azerbaijan for supply of crude oil, sources said.

India and Azerbaijan agreed “to develop economic ties” and explore “opportunities of implementation of mutual investment projects.” They aim to create a “friendly and positive atmosphere among businessmen of the two countries and contribute to enhancing mutual trade relations,” sources said.” The two sides decided to through “mutual diplomatic channels” develop “cooperation in field of oil-chemistry industry, especially oil treatment,” enhance technical cooperation and find possibilities for exchange of views in the field of agriculture, and explore opportunities for participation of Azerbaijan at workshops and trainings organized by India’s International Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program and other technical assistance programs.

India and Azerbaijan also touched on issues such as their membership of International North-South transport corridor (INSTC). They expressed the need to “make joint efforts towards identifying issues and impediments in the smooth functioning of the Corridor and to further develop their relations in the area of transportation,” sources said. With Azerbaijan well endowed with good reserves of non-ferrous minerals like gold, aluminum, zinc, copper, molybdenum, chrome, rock salt, gypsum, limestone, bitumen, clay, marble, etc, they also viewed cooperation in the field of non-ferrous metallurgy as “mutually beneficial,” sources said
In the field of Communication & Information Technology, as India plays a leading role, the two sides deliberated on inking an agreement on bilateral cooperation. The delegates also agreed on their being “potential” for strengthening bilateral ties by expanding cooperation in areas such as agriculture, tourism, environment protection, health, education, customs issue, chemical & petrochemical sector and the engineering industry.

Ironically, though the meeting is viewed as a major beginning towards developing stronger bilateral ties between India and Azerbaijan at the diplomatic level, it served as an eye-opener to strong cultural and historical ties between the two countries. On sidelines of the meeting, the Azerbaijani members drew attention to the traditional folklore Laila-Majnu, on which several Hindi movies have been made. It can be traced to Azerbaijan, with Nizami Ganjavi, known as the greatest Azerbaijani poet, who lived in 12th century, having begun a new trend in poetry- the epic-romantic genre. The historic linkage is also marked by Azerbaijani-origins of Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty in India. The outstanding monuments constructed during the Mughal period, include the Humayun tomb in Delhi. The architect of the tomb was from Azerbaijan.

What is perhaps most amazing is that cultural linkage between people of the two countries remains strong. Bollywood movies and film-stars are extremely popular in Azerbaijan. It was a pleasant surprise to find the visiting Azerbaijani delegates enjoying Hindi film songs being sung at a reception hosted in their honor by their country’s envoy to India, Tamerlan Karayev. Even though for several Azerbaijani delegates, it was a first visit to India, they seemed fairly familiar with Hindi movies as they easily voiced the names of films from which the various songs were being played. Elshad Nassirov, Vice President, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, who has been to India before, revealed that amongst the most popular names used in his country, were Indian names, including that of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and film star Nargis. In his words: “You will find quite a few Indiras in Azerbaijan. It is a popular name there. So is Nargis. My wife’s name is Nargis.”

Muslims constitute more than ninety percent of Azerbaijan’s population. Earlier, a part of former superpower Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence on 18th October 1991. India recognized Azerbaijan in December 1991 and established diplomatic ties with it on 28th February 1992.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic formalities taking their own time in strengthening cooperation between India and Azerbaijan at the official level, there is little doubt that people have let their cultural ties remain undisturbed.  While Laila-Majnu, Shireen-Farhad and other romantic folklores traced to Azerbaijan remain popular here, Bollywood superstars, including Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan are a favorite there!

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Political Battle Over Regional Vs National Identity/Languages

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)  India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Abu Asim Azmi’s decision to take oath in Hindi in Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan on November 9 has not only enhanced his political importance but has also proved politically damaging for his rivals. Defying Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)’s diktat for taking oath only in Marathi, Azmi took oath in Hindi. Though the few minutes, during which Azmi was manhandled and slapped by MNS activists inside the Vidhan Bhavan for taking oath in Hindi must have been traumatic for the SP leader, they have earned him substantial media coverage, adding to his political stature within his own party and across the country.

Amid the backdrop of SP faring poorly in recently held by polls, the worst shock of which is defeat of SP chief Mulayam Singh’s daughter-in-law Dimple from Firozabad, the party apparently is counting on Azmi’s newly earned popularity to help the party improve its political image. Dimple was defeated by Congress candidate Raj Babbar by more than 85,000 votes. The party’s poor performance is linked with it having lost Muslim votes because of its alliance with Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and a member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when the Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. The SP has thus decided to distance itself from Kalyan Singh and felicitate Azmi to gain the lost Muslim-base.

“Azmi upheld the prestige of the national language in the anti-Hindi environment prevailing in Maharashtra,” the SP stated at its meeting in Lucknow (November 14). Signaling that SP’s political friendship with Kalyan Singh had ceased, Mulayam Singh said:  “He is not a part of the Samajwadi Party. Kalyan Singh himself says he is not part of any party.”

Interestingly, the political limelight gained by Azmi on taking oath in Hindi has prompted quite a few Marathi celebrities to clarify their stand on their regional and national identity. Cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar said: “Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. And I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that but I am an Indian first.” (November 13) Tendulkar’s stand has certainly added some fire to the fight on “Maratha-issue” and also prompted more politicians to add their voice to it. 

Criticizing Tendulkar strongly for his remarks, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said in his party mouthpiece, Samana: “By making these remarks, you have got run-out on the pitch of Marathi psyche. You were not even born when the Marathi Manoos got Mumbai and 105 Marathi people sacrificed their lives to get Mumbai.”
Though it is not the first time that Thackeray has made such comments, they have invited greater political attention than before because of “Marathi-identity” being strongly in news.  Not surprisingly, Tendulkar has won strong applause from various political leaders for his comments. “His statement has been made in the true sportsman spirit. Though he is a Maharashtrian, he plays for the country. This (Tendulkar’s comment) will unite the entire country,” according to Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. 

Among others who expressed appreciation for Tendulkar’s remarks and also congratulated him for taking the stand are Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Minority Affairs Minister (central cabinet) Salman Khurshid and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad. Thackeray has been “clean-bowled” by Tendulkar, Khurshid said.

Thackeray’s criticism of Tendulkar has not won any support from the saffron brigade. Taking a guarded stand on the controversy raised in Maharashtra over “Marathi,” without specifically referring to the issue, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said at a public rally in Pune: “There are certain issues of Marathi-speaking people and agitations on this can be justified. But it should not be at the cost of national integration and harmony.” (November 15)  Declining to question Tendulkar’s stand, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi: “If Maharashtrian says he is proud of being a Maharashtrian as well as an Indian, then I find this statement absolutely correct.” (November 16)

Welcoming Tendulkar’s stand, Azmi said: “I admire Sachin Tendulkar to have not got cowed down by Shiv Sena’s intimidation tactics and having proudly declared that he was an Indian first. Sachin’s remark must make the Sena ruffians understand that after all, Maharashtra is like any other state – a part of the Indian nation.”  Azmi is also hopeful that his party would be able to regain the support of Muslim-vote. On this, he said: “I welcome my party president’s decision to distance himself from the man who was responsible for demolition of the Babari Masjid. I wonder what had led him to shake hands with Kalyan Singh, but thankfully realization dawned on my Netaji (Mulayam Singh), who finally decided to part ways with that man.” “I am sure that Muslims who had chosen to distance themselves from the SP because of this reason, would once again return to stand by Mulayam, whose contribution to the cause of minorities was unmatched,” Azmi said. SP has a long political innings to play, during which it certainly is counting on projecting Azmi as its Muslim face. It is to be watched whether the limelight gained by Azmi on taking oath in Hindi will help turn the political trend in SP’s favor or not. 

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Vande Mataram Fatwa: Hardly Controversial

November 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service India Correspondent (MMNS)

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding all the reservations and bias, they entertain against each other, several groups representing extremist sections of Indian Hindus and Muslims may be blamed equally for needlessly making noise over their stand on the Indian national song- Vande Mataram. The controversy hit the headlines with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), a Muslim organization issuing a fatwa against recitation of Vande Mataram, as according to them several stanzas were against their religious principles. The JUH issued the fatwa at its 30th general session held at Deoband (November 3). It did not take long for extremist Hindu groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal to immediately protest against the JUH-fatwa. Several leaders associated with saffron brigade also labeled as not singing the Vande Mataram as an act of treason.

Clarifying his stand on the issue, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid questioned both the JUH-fatwa and the saffron brigade’s stand on it being compulsory for all Indians, including Muslims, to sing Vande Mataram. “During the independence movement, all national leaders, including leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind Hind sat together and resolved that some stanzas of Vande Mataram would be treated as the national song and would be sung voluntarily. Nobody was forced to sing it and this is something which was there in the resolutions of both JUH and the Congress party,” Khurshid said. Just as there was no need for JUH to raise the issue again, as it had been already settled earlier, no individual could be forced to sing the song, he said. “I don’t know why this issue is being raised again,” he commented.

Vande Mataram, song was a part of the novel written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay called Anand Math, published in 1882. When India achieved independence in 1947, it was expected to become the national anthem. Objections raised by Muslim leaders, led to the song (Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaya), written by Rabindranath Tagore become the national anthem.

Considering the fact that issue was resolved several decades ago, there was no reason for any fatwa against it. It would have been different case altogether, had JUH issued the decree in response against any of their members or associates being forced to sing the song. Similarly, the protest raised by extremist Hindu groups would have carried some relevance were the JUH-fatwa legally or morally binding on the entire Indian Muslim community. Or if the fatwa was suggestive of their showing disrespect to the national song. In this context, Vande Mataram is not the only national issue over which controversies have been raised time and again. Officially, though Hindi is India’s national language, it is not binding for government work across the country. Each state uses its regional language, with Hindi being the official language of less than 10 states. Bengali is West Bengal’s official language, Tamil of Tamil Nadu, Marathi – Maharashtra, Gujarati – Gujarat, Telugu – Andhra Pradesh and so forth.

The key point here is that the decision of various states of not using Hindi as their official language is not regarded as an act of treason and/or their showing disrespect to the national language. So why should questions be raised regarding the JUH-fatwa on Vande Mataram? Just as all Indians cannot be forced to use only Hindi, why should hue and cry be raised if some individuals or even groups decide not to sing Vande Mataram? It would have been a different case altogether, if the same was suggestive of such national symbols being abused.

Besides, it is indeed surprising that a lot of noise has been made over JUH-fatwa. One organization’s fatwa has prompted critics to say that it reflects the backwardness of Indian Muslims, their suffering from leadership crisis and their life being still being confined to dictates of their clerics. These points would have had some credibility if JUH was representative of the entire Indian Muslim community. It is not. The error lies in the critics confining their approach to analyzing issues linked with Indian Muslims only to their stereotyped approach, strongly suggestive of the negative bias they still hold against the country’s largest minority community. Just as neither the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena or any extremist organization linked with saffron brigade or known to project its Hindutva-agenda, be held as representative of the entire Indian Hindu community, no Islamic group – even if claims to – be regarded as the voice of all Muslims in India. The error lies in assuming a few select groups to represent one whole religious community. How can the regional, religious, casteist and other ethnic factors the Indian people across the country are divided into be ignored? This is strongly reflected by numerous political parties, spread across the country. Difference in political culture from north to south, east to west and from state to state also stands marked by the dress, language, even the variety in food, used by Indians. It is indeed amazing, that while making noise against the JUH-fatwa on Vande Mataram, the critics virtually ignored facts such as that organization does not represent the entire Indian Muslim community and singing it is not binding on all Indians, just as using Hindi as the national language is not. The issue, hardly controversial, has been made to appear as such by noise raised over it!

11-47

PM’s Kashmir Visit: “Productive & Fruitful?”

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Ironically, just when it seemed that Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was taking the right steps to win over Kashmiris in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the week ended with quite a few questioning the government’s intentions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir last week (October 28-29), accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee, Health & Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and New & Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah. Singh inaugurated the 12-km-long Anantnag-Qazigund rail link in south Kashmir. Besides, he reviewed the development efforts being taken by state government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Singh also held discussions with major political parties in the state.

Briefing media, after concluding his two-day visit, Singh described it as “productive and fruitful.” During their talks, he and Abdullah “took stock of the development efforts in various sectors and discussed ways and means of expediting the implementation of various central projects,” Singh said. In his discussions with other political leaders and various sections of civil society, Singh made an “appeal” for dialogue, which he hopes “will be reciprocated in the spirit in which it was made.” “We have to carry all stakeholders with us to achieve a permanent and peaceful reconciliation in Jammu & Kashmir so that we can concentrate on an ambitious development agenda that will lead to a full economic revival and reconstruction and create lot more jobs for the young people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Singh stated that he was returning to Delhi “fully satisfied” with his visit. “I believe that a new chapter is opening in the peace process in the state and we are turning a corner. We will extend full support to the efforts of the state government to fulfill the high expectations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir,” he said.
During his address, at the inauguration of the rail-link, Singh pointed out that his government has taken a number of steps for the state’s development. These include, Singh said, the “bold step of reviving the movement of goods and people across the Line of Control on the Srinagar – Muzaffarabad road and on the Poonch – Rawalakot road.” Accepting that a lot more needed to be done, he said: “We have to speed up the pace of development in the state. We have to reverse the brain drain that has denuded the state of many of its teachers, doctors, engineers and intellectuals. We have to create the conditions for them to return and to be the instruments of change and development. We want to strengthen the hands of the state government so that they can implement an ambitious development agenda.”

Singh outlined the central government’s to involve the state’s youth under the “Skill Development to Employment” program, directed towards training them as tourist escorts, developing Information Technology sector in J&K and setting up two central universities in the state- one in Jammu and one in Kashmir.

“The era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end. The public sentiment is for peace and for a peaceful resolution of all problems,” Singh pointed out. He laid stress that his government is “committed to having unconditional dialogue with whoever abjures violence.” On talks India has held with Pakistan, Singh said: “We had the most fruitful and productive discussions ever with the Government of Pakistan during the period 2004-07 when militancy and violence began to decline.” “For the first time in 60 years, people were able to travel by road across the LoC. Divided families were re-united at the border. Trade between the two sides of Kashmir began. In fact, our overall trade with Pakistan increased three times during 2004-07. The number of visas that we issued to Pakistanis doubled during the same period. An additional rail link was re-established. These are not small achievements given the history of our troubled relationship with Pakistan. Inside the valley, as militancy declined, trade, business and tourism began to pick up. We were moving in the right direction,” Singh said.

When there was a “feeling among the people that a durable and final peace was around the corner,” Singh said: “All the progress that we achieved has been repeatedly thwarted by acts of terrorism. The terrorists want permanent enmity to prevail between the two countries. The terrorists have misused the name of a peaceful and benevolent religion.” Before concluding his address, Singh appealed to the Pakistan government that the “hand of friendship that we have extended should be carried forward” in “interest of people of India and Pakistan.”

Undeniably, Singh’s Kashmir-visit suggests that his government is leaving no stone unturned for peace and development of the state. But the Kashmiris started questioning the same moves as the center decided a day later to stop pre-paid mobiles in J&K from November 1. An official release from the home ministry stated that the decision was taken because of “serious security concerns” which had risen as “proper verification” was not being done while providing pre-paid mobile connections (October 30).

Criticizing and questioning the sudden decision taken by the center, the Kashmiris asked as to why should they all suffer for “wrong doings” of a few militants. “Are all users of pre-paid mobile services being viewed as terrorists?” asked a Kashmiri student. Mehboob Beigh, a legislator of National Conference (NC), which heads the state government, said: “It is unwise to do this at a time when the PM has stressed on creating an atmosphere for peace.” Opposition leader, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti described the situation as “unfortunate” and sought the PM’s personal intervention to restore the service. The move negates the statements made by PM in his Kashmir visit, she said. On the one hand, she said, the “union government was claiming that the situation has improved in the state and on the other residents of this state have been denied facilities like mobile services in the name of security threats.”

“What kind of a message is being conveyed to industrialists and prospective investors across the country? That Kashmir is a state where terrorism is as high as before the mobile services were launched in the state in 2003?” asked a businessman. In the opinion of some, it would not have much of an impact, as people are likely to lobby and convert the existing pre-paid connections into post-paid ones.

11-46

Indo-Pak Nuclear Handshake Affirmed By Soldiers’ Diwali Celebrations

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Ironically, festival time spelt celebrations and exchange of pleasantries between Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the international border, even though diplomatic relations between the countries continue to be strained since last year’s Mumbai-strikes. Marking Diwali, the festival of lights (October 17), at the joint check post at Attari Border, the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Commandant S.H. Dhillon handed over seven boxes of traditional Indian sweets and a big basket of fruits to the Wing Commander of Pakistan Rangers Mohhammad Akbar Ali Bhatt. Soldiers of both the countries shook hands and interacted with each other exchanging pleasantries. Similarly, the two sides exchanged greetings at Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point along Line of Control (LoC).  Representing the Indian side, Colonel J.P. Yadav handed over eight boxes of sweets and dry fruits to Pakistani side led by Colonel Asad. While exchanging greetings, they also prayed for peace between India and Pakistan. Border security officials from the two sides exchanged sweets last month also, celebrating Eid.

While exchange of pleasantries at the border between soldiers of two sides has not hit headlines globally or nationally, it certainly conveys a strong message. Though as their respective national security demands, they are prepared for war, India and Pakistan certainly seem in no mood to reach even a near-war or a war-like stage at least in the near future. In fact, probability of an open conflict between India and Pakistan has been ruled out since the two attained nuclear prowess and subsequently reached a nuclear understanding with each other. This point is being specifically made as it defies the claim made by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch in his new book, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President (Simon & Schuster), about India and Pakistan being on the verge of a nuclear conflict in the late nineties.

There is nothing astonishing or even new about Branch’s claim as United States has been apprehensive about nuclear policies pursued by India as well as Pakistan from the very beginning. United States has always been against their proliferation drive and has repeatedly tried securing their signatures to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). When India initially stepped onto the nuclear path, followed by Pakistan, Washington raised hue and cry over it, emphasizing that it would take the subcontinent only towards MAD, that is Mutually Assured Destruction.

Branch has repeated the old US-stance against the rise of nuclear prowess in subcontinent by drawing attention to there having prevailed the possibility of a Indo-Pak nuclear war in 1999 over the Kargil-conflict. Well, the risk of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan over numerous issues, such as Kashmir, terrorism and others has been a permanent one. It shall remain so probably for decades to come. It is indeed paradoxical that the superpower has failed to credit the two nations, particularly the Indian government for not reaching the war-stage even in 1999, despite all the preparations being in place. India’s nuclear diplomacy prevailed. It defeated the US apprehension that Indian nuclear prowess would spell destruction. Indian nuclear diplomacy strongly signaled the victory of deterrence pact it had entered into with Pakistan against the criticism levied by United States towards their proliferation drive. Signed by then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto on December 31, 1988, the two countries agreed not to attack each other’s nuclear installations and facilities. Notwithstanding all the hype raised over the stall in the Indo-Pak dialogue process, the two countries have continued to practise this agreement which entered into force on January 27, 1991. They inform each other of nuclear installations and facilities covered by the agreement on first January of every calendar year. Despite the Mumbai-terrorist strikes serving as a diplomatic irritant, they exchanged the lists this year too.

True, the Kargil-issue nearly brought India and Pakistan to the stage of an open conflict. Without doubt, India as Big Brother in the region had (and has) options to display an aggressive approach towards its neighbors by reaching the war-stage when provoked by external elements desirious of chaos and instability in South Asia. The Kargil-issue followed by several terrorist incidents, including the Mumbai-strikes, provoked by extremist elements across the border are all suggestive of designs contemplated to incite the two nuclear powers to the stage of an open conflict. If they did, it would add credence to apprehensions voiced by United States that India and Pakistan are not diplomatically mature enough to pursue the proliferation drive. It is time that Washington revised its opinion about fears it has entertained against India’s nuclear drive from the beginning.

Nuclear diplomacy as laid out and followed by Indian government should be viewed as a perfect example of a nuclear power’s foreign policy towards another country, even though it may entertain long-lasting differences with it on certain crucial issues. Branch’s reference to India and Pakistan having almost reached the stage of nuclear war in late nineties may well be viewed as a reiteration of old stand entertained by United States against proliferation drive in South Asia. Rather than question Indian nuclear diplomacy, which has only been successfully practiced till date, United States needs to reconsider whether its own nuclear diplomacy has been equally successful or not. War games played by the superpower in Iraq and Afghanistan can hardly be signaled as a success of United States’ nuclear diplomacy. War only spells failure of diplomacy. The Indo-Pak nuclear handshake together with their symbolic exchange of greetings on festive occasions at the border itself defeat all the hype entertained by Uncle Sam about their preparing for a MAD nuclear war.

11-44

Salim Fights For Beard & Wins

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service, MMNS

NEW DELHI: Mohammed Salim, a class ten student must be fairly pleased at the apex court finally supporting his decision to keep a beard. He was expelled last year from Nirmala Convent High School, Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh for refusing to shave on religious ground. Describing the school’s decision to expel him for sporting a beard as “ridiculous,” a bench of Justices B.N. Aggrawal and G.S. Singhvi said: “Merely because you have a beard, they removed you? So if you are a Sikh, you will not be able to sport a beard. Tomorrow they will say you are not fair complexioned. Nowadays, it has become a fashion for some people to pierce their ears for putting the ring. So such persons will not be allowed to study. Prima facie, it’s ridiculous,” (September 11).

Salim is probably not the only Muslim boy who has faced discrimination at a non-Muslim educational institution. But he is one of the few Muslims to have decided to fight legally for justice in keeping with the fundamental right and duty on religious grounds guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. A major point of his argument was that he was clearly being discriminated against as those belonging to the Sikh community were allowed to keep a beard and sport a turban. If they were being permitted to keep the beard and wear the turban in keeping with religious dictates of Sikhism, why was he–a Muslim-not allowed to sport a beard? Why had he been expelled for refusing to shave on religious grounds?

Supporting Salim’s argument, the apex court bench directed the school to immediately take back the expelled student. Though the verdict has finally gone in his favor, it has not been an easy fight for Salim. He has lost a year in the legal battle. His stand has been: “I will die but not give up my beard. It’s a matter of my faith. Its in my religion.” Now he can go back to school with a beard. Salim plans to resume studies at the same school after Eid.

The ironical twist in Salim’s case stands out in it having been rejected earlier by the apex court. He had appealed in the apex court after the Madhya Pradesh High Court had rejected his plea. Dismissing his petition, Justice Markandeya Katju had made a controversial comment, for which he later apologized. Implying that keeping a beard on religious grounds was equivalent to turning to extremism, Katju had then said: “Talibanization of the country cannot be permitted.” Stating that Salim was expected to follow rules and rights set by the institution, the bench had said: “If there are rules, you have to follow it. You can’t say that I will not wear a uniform and I will wear only a burqa.” “You can join some other institution if you do not want to observe the rules. But you can’t ask the school to change the rules for you,” Katju had said (March 30).

Objecting to Katju’s controversial comments and expressing apprehension over his impartiality, Salim filed a review petition. The order “needs to be reviewed afresh as the core issue of a Muslim’s right to sport a beard as guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution (right to practice and profess one’s religion) was violated by the school,” Salim said.

Justices R.V. Raveendran and Katju withdrew the March 30 order on July 6. They requested that the matter be placed before the Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and be posted before another bench. Katju also apologized for his remarks on linking the beard with Talibanization. Salim’s Special Leave Petition was taken up formally last week by bench of Justices Aggrawal and Singhvi.

Undeniably, credit must be given to Salim and those who have supported him for pursuing their point even after it seemed that the apex court had turned down their appeal. Senior advocate B.A. Khan, appearing for Salim, had argued that his expulsion from school for keeping beard was against “his religious conscience, belief and custom of his family.” As per Article 25 of the Constitution, Salim had the right to pursue his religious practice of keeping a beard, Khan said. He described the regulation for shaving it as violative of the provision guaranteed by the Constitution.

In addition to complimenting the apex court for finally viewing Salim’s case, objectively and impartially, appreciation must be voiced for him and his supporters for not letting their stand on religious right get defeated by those who linked a Muslim’s beard with terrorism. True, all Muslim and Sikh males do not sport beards. But the decision to do so is based on their religious perceptions. Certainly, this does not imply that anyone who keeps a beard should be viewed as a “terrorist.” After all, even British writer Salman Rushdie has a beard, so does the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Salim’s case serves as an eye-opener to another hard reality. It still remains a taxing task for ordinary, religious Indian Muslims to convince even the elite Indian class that it is time the latter stopped viewing their beliefs and practices (including the beard) with a tainted approach. What is held as religious should not from any angle be linked with terrorism!

11-39

YSR’s Death Raises Questions

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD:  The sudden passing away of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (60) in a chopper crash last Wednesday (September 2) has raised intriguing questions about certain crucial issues. One is instantly forced to deliberate on loopholes present in the security actually provided to political VVIPs and apparent negligence displayed towards ensuring that helicopters used by them have no technical flaws and are capable of handling weather problems. If as initial reports indicate that the helicopter had technical problems, why was it retained in service to be used leading to Reddy’s death and of four others on board? The same helicopter had developed a technical snag earlier this year, while Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama was flying from Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) to Gulbarga in Karnataka. The Dalai Lama was told during the flight that the helicopter was experiencing technical problems. The pilot managed to land the Bell-430 chopper safely at its destination. The Dalai Lama used a different chopper on his return flight.

If the concerned aviation staff was aware of the technical problem in chopper, why was it made available for use by Reddy? The helicopter crashed over Nallamala while flying to Chittor from Hyderabad. It has also been said that chopper ran into rough weather and then crashed. This implies that the chopper may have crashed because the pilot was not given the right information about weather problems, he may have over-estimated the plane’s weather-handling capacity and/or despite being aware of these risks he took the chance, as he did not want to refuse on flying the VVIPs. The pilots face the risk of losing jobs on refusing to fly top dignitaries, even if their stand is backed by strong reasons such as bad weather.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is looking into whether the local Met office gave the correct weather report before the VVIP flight took off. The hard fact of weather being unpredictable cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, this does not minimize importance given to checking vital air safety checks of helicopters being used in India. It may be noted here that DGCA has only one part-time inspector to conduct safety checks of more than 200 helicopters deployed across the country. Even if this inspector was engaged full-time in conducting safety checks, it is certainly not a one man’s job to thoroughly inspect 200 helicopters all over the country. As it takes two days to thoroughly inspect one helicopter, it would be impossible for him to inspect all 200 helicopters even in a year’s time. Considering the new importance being given by politicians to use helicopters, isn’t it time that they paid some attention to safety of choppers they use and weather conditions. Not too long ago, an angry state chief minister ordered the transfer of a pilot simply because the latter had refused to fly the VVIP because of bad weather.

Reddy’s death has also exposed a dark side of Indian political culture once again. Though there is nothing surprising about it but one is certainly amazed at how chaotic and stormy Indian politics can get in the race for political chairs. This has been exposed with Reddy’s death being followed by confusion and political battling on who would succeed him as the chief minister. While the confusion has ended for the time being, with swearing in of Reddy’s Financial Minister K. Rosaiah as the caretaker chief minister (September 3), the political heat has not yet settled down. A new set of ministers was sworn in to form the state’s new cabinet (September 6). But the battle is still on with their being a heated campaign in favor of Reddy’s son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy as the next chief minister. A letter signed by 36 ministers in the late Reddy’s cabinet has urged Congress president Sonia Gandhi to consider him for the post. The letter said: “Just like Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Jaganmohan Reddy has a good following among the masses from grass-roots level and is acceptable to all sections, particularly the downtrodden and weaker sections, for the post of chief minister.”

Several former ministers stated that they would join the cabinet only if Jaganmohan was made the chief minister. It is pathetic that supporters of Jaganmohan have even disrupted condolence meetings being held in his father’s memory. Shouting shrill slogans they forced early end of a condolence meeting being held in Hyderabad in the presence of acting Chief Minister Rosaiah, Union Minister Jaipal Reddy and state Congress president D. Srinivas. The three leaders had to be quickly escorted to safety by security personnel as Jaganmohan’s supporters tried to mob them (September 6). Considering that Jaganmohan’s entry into Lok Sabha this year is only his first step onto the Indian political stage, one is forced to wonder whether his supporters are considering him as the “right” candidate only because he happens to be late Reddy’s son? Shouldn’t he be first given time to prove his political mantle as his father did?

Circumstances leading to Reddy’s death and the political storm over who would be next chief minister have exposed two dark sides of Indian politics. One is negligence of needed air safety measures even for political VVIPs. The second is inherent instability leading to confusion and chaos when leader at the top suddenly moves off the political stage. If entering Indian politics is being treated like a cakewalk, as Jaganmohan’s supporters seem to, it would certainly provide rivals of Congress enough political ground to rise again in the state!

11-38

Indian Diplomacy Towards Pakistan

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI: History, internal politics, regional factors as well as diplomatic pressure from other quarters play a great role in shaping India’s diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Within less than two months of inking a joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in Sharm El Sheikh on July 16, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a totally different message to people at home. The joint statement described the two prime ministers’ meeting as “cordial and constructive,” during which “they considered the entire gamut of bilateral relations with a view to charting the way forward in India-Pakistan relations.” While accepting that terrorism posed a serious threat, they “recognized that dialogue is the only way forward.” “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed,” according to the joint statement.

On Mumbai-terror strikes, which have had a negative impact on Indo-Pak ties, while Singh “reiterated the need to bring perpetuators of Mumbai attacks to justice,” Gilani “assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.” They also agreed that, “real challenge is development and elimination of poverty.” They resolved to “eliminate” such factors and “agreed to work to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence.”

Later, expressing satisfaction on his meeting with Gilani on sidelines of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Egypt, Singh said that he had “good discussions” with him. During the meeting, “We discussed the present condition of India-Pakistan relations, its future potential, and the steps that are necessary to enable us to realize the potential,” Singh said.

Within less than two months of his talks with Gilani and just ahead of another top-level Indo-Pak meeting, Singh almost ruled out possibility of improving ties with Pakistan in the near future. “Until relations between India and Pakistan don’t improve and brotherhood does not increase, the atmosphere is not right for moving ahead,” Singh said at a function in the border district of Barmer in Rajasthan (August 29). At the same time, expressing his desire for improvement in Indo-Pak ties, Singh said: “I want our relations to improve.” “If relations between India and Pakistan improve, a lot of things can happen. I think border-states like Punjab, Rajasthan and other states will benefit if relations improve,” he pointed out.

Earlier in the week, while addressing the conference of Indian heads of missions, Singh said: “India has a stake in prosperity and stability of all our South Asian neighbors. We should strive to engage our neighbors constructively and resolve differences through peaceful means and negotiations” (August 25).

Difference in the diplomatic tone used by Singh on India’s approach towards Pakistan at different levels cannot be ignored. The joint statement inked in Sharm El Sheikh was certainly not confined to the Indian audience. It was released on sidelines of a multilateral summit, apparently to convince the world leaders that India and Pakistan are keen on normalizing their ties. A different message would certainly have been sent had the two prime ministers not held talks. Not only did they meet, held talks but they also released a joint statement. In other words, they exercised all diplomatic moves essential on the sidelines of another summit to assure the world that India and Pakistan are keen on improving their relations. Besides, the meeting was held a few days ahead of United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s India-visit. India apparently was keen to convince US about its positive approach towards Pakistan. Had Singh and Gilani not held talks on an optimistic note, there prevailed the risk of United States using diplomatic pressure during Clinton’s visit for improvement in Indo-Pak ties. Thus, though the joint statement later invited strong criticism from opposition parties in India, it was framed and issued for the world leaders, including the United States. A similar diplomatic message was conveyed in Singh’s address at the conference of Indian envoys in the capital city (August 25).

The change in Singh’s tone stands out in the comments he made in Rajasthan, laying stress that atmosphere is not conducive for “moving ahead” with Indo-Pak talks. Similarly, while speaking at the inauguration of three-day conference of Indian envoys, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said that meaningful talks with Pakistan would only be possible after Islamabad ended cross-border terrorism. Krishna also laid stress that India was keen to resolve its differences with Pakistan through talks. “We are still to see Pakistan take effective steps to end infiltration and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism. We have maintained that a stable Pakistan at peace with itself is a desirable goal and we wish to address our differences with Pakistan through dialogue,” Krishna said (August 24). It cannot be missed that foreign ministers of the two countries are expected to meet in September in New York on sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meet.

Clearly, at one level the pause in resumption of Indo-Pak composite dialogue process gives the impression that two countries are still a long way off from normalizing their ties. Diplomatic significance of their holding top-level talks on sidelines of multilateral summits cannot, however, be ignored. They have not backtracked from their decision to normalize ties nor have restrained from making use of available diplomatic opportunities to shake hands and talk. While India is keen to let the world know about it favoring talks with Pakistan, at home, the government is apparently more concerned about convincing the people that cross-border terrorism remains a hurdle in normalizing ties with Islamabad!

11-37

BJP’s Political Strategy: Singh’s Expulsion

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: It is still too early and too simplistic to view the internal crisis faced by the BJP as a sign of the party heading towards a collapse. In the last week the BJP has been hitting headlines over expelling senior party leader Jaswant Singh and the resignation of party activist Sudhendra Kulkarni. The party expelled Singh for his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence in which Singh claims Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not solely responsible for partition and the formation of Pakistan. In Singh’s opinion, Jinnah has been unnecessarily blamed for this, as India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel were also responsible. Taking strong exception to the stand taken by Singh, at its brain storming session in Shimla, the BJP decided to expel him August 19. And before the dust over the issue had settled, Kulkarni announced his decision to break his ties with BJP.

Reacting to the BJP’s decision on expelling him, Singh said: “I didn’t think that the party is so narrow-minded, so nervous about Jinnah and Patel to get so riled at what I have written. I have a feeling, which I voiced also, that perhaps my former colleagues had not really read the book when they passed the sentence.”  On Kulkarni’s resignation, Singh said: “He (Kulkarni) has been persuaded to resign.”

Claiming that his resignation from BJP had nothing to do with Singh’s expulsion, Kulkarni said that he had decided to resign earlier. “I have, after 13 years of being a full-time activist of BJP, decided to end my active association with the party. I continue, however, to be its well-wisher,” he said. “I have concluded that I cannot make any meaningful contribution to the party anymore, as I have ideological differences with it as it stands today. I want to have the freedom to express my views and be sincere to my convictions. At the same time, I respect the discipline of the party and, therefore, I have stepped out,” Kulkarni said.

The ironical similarity between what led to Singh’s expulsion and Kulkarni’s resignation cannot be de-linked. If Singh faced the ire of hardcore party members because of his book, Kulkarni also faced their wrath on account of several points he made in recent articles. Kulkarni, a journalist, strongly criticized the manner in which former cabinet minister Singh was expelled from the BJP at its Shimla conclave. Earlier, following the BJP’s defeat in Lok Sabha polls, Kulkarni was highly critical of the party’s election campaign strategy, hate speeches of Varun Gandhi–and he also blamed Sangh Parivar for its interfering in BJP functions.

Singh’s expulsion and Kulkarni’s resignation are also suggestive of both being made to walk out of the party because the hardcore party members, strongly associated with the saffron brigade, felt uncomfortable with their writings, which went against the code the BJP is expected to adhere to. There is also the possibility of the entire political drama having been deliberately staged to judge the reaction that it would have on the people, political circles and in the media. There is no denying BJP leaders having acknowledged that its negative image has contributed to its defeat in Lok Sabha polls. The internal report deliberated on at the Shimla conclave listed projection of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as future PM, and Varun’s hate speeches as responsible for the BJP’s poll debacle. Ironically, neither Singh nor Kulkarni have been accused by the party or its allies as responsible for their poor performance in the parliamentary elections. Amid this backdrop, Singh’s expulsion and Kulkarni’s resignation may well be a short-term political strategy being worked upon to study whether the BJP would gain from distance from the views in their writings. Or whether it is time that the party stepped out of its dependence on extremist views entertained by Sangh Parivar and gave greater importance to views such as those projected by Singh and Kulkarni.

Now, Singh’s expulsion is being linked primarily only with his views favoring Jinnah. What has been sidelined is that Singh has also pointed fingers at Nehru, holding him more responsible than Jinnah for the country’s partition. This amounts to Singh painting a negative image of the Congress party, regarding the partition.

Singh’s expulsion from the party has attracted more attention to his book. It is to be watched as to for how long does this political drama last and whether it has been deliberately staged as an attempt to project a dark side of the Congress’ past to the country. If this is the real political plan, than Singh and to a lesser degree Kulkarni are being used as pawns by the BJP against its rival- the Congress. Only time will tell as to what strategy is BJP trying its hand at to gain a political edge over the Congress in the near future!

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Biased Frisking Of Shahrukh

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

shah-rukh khan actor NEW DELHI: Just as Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan was probably not prepared for being detained by American immigration officials at Newark Liberty in International Airport in New Jersey for questioning, United States apparently did not expect the reaction that it would trigger from India. Different views have been expressed on what actually led to Shahrukh being detained (August 15). Linking his case with his religious identity- a Muslim- Shahrukh said that he was held up because his last name (Khan) came up on a computer alert list. Incidentally, the actor was in United States to participate in India’s Independent Day celebrations and also to promote his new film: “My Name is Khan,” which highlights racial discrimination of Muslims after September 11, 2001 attacks in United States.

Shahrukh may have been detained for a still longer time had perhaps the Indian embassy in United States not intervened. Not every Khan or any person bearing a Muslim name is lucky enough to have his country’s embassy intervene in such cases. Nevertheless, the US immigration officials denied that Shahrukh was formally detained because of his last name having cropped up on their computer alert system. His security check “took a little longer because his bag was lost by the airline,” according to US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Elmer Camacho. Irrespective of whether Shahrukh’s bag was actually lost or not, Camacho’s statement certainly indicates United States’ acknowledgement that the actor was detained for longer than routine security checks require. It defeats the view expressed by certain people that Shahrukh was only subject to routine security frisking and the actor unnecessarily made a lot of noise about the issue. This is further confirmed by US embassy in India stating that it would look into the case. “We are clarifying. We are trying to ascertain facts about the incident,” US embassy official said.

Soon after the incident, Shahrukh expressed that he would avoid going to United States, as he did not want to be a part of America’s paranoia of religion. “This has happened with me before and that’s why it concerns me all the more. As it is I shy away from coming to the US because I don’t want to participate in their paranoia about religion and everything that the US has developed into over the years. I don’t want to say that it happened because I am a Muslim as it may lead to something else, but I think it had something to do with that only. We can only avoid this by not coming to the US,” he said. Describing the incident as “uncalled for,” Shahrukh said: “I did feel bad. I felt angry. I am glad my family wasn’t there. God knows what they would have done to them.”

Reacting to Shahrukh’s words, US envoy Timothy J. Roemer said: “We are trying to ascertain facts of the case – to understand what took place. Shahrukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films.” The incident would probably not have invited reaction at the diplomatic level from both India and United States, were it a routine process to which all visiting US are subject to. 

Undeniably, if an ordinary Indian possessing the same name had been detained for even longer hours than the actor, the incident would not have probably hit headlines nor would it have raised concern diplomatically, politically and among the Indian people. This also is perhaps a minor indicator of the apparent religious and racial bias, which people bearing common Muslim names are subject to in United States. While United States may still take some time to come to terms with the negative image that prevalence of this bias has earned for the superpower, it cannot be missed that Washington is gradually but definitely becoming aware of this hard reality. This probably compelled United States to issue statements at various levels on what led to the incident and that it would be looked into.

In addition to the incident having invited strong comments from several Indian politicians, Shahrukh’s fans reacted strongly by staging a demonstration in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh). Shouting slogans against the US administration, they also burnt effigy of US President Barack Obama. They termed Shahrukh’s detention as an “insult to one billion Indians,” (August 16). A similar demonstration was staged in the capital city also.

”We will take the issue with the United States government strongly. Such incidents involving Indians due to their religion or nationality should not happen. We will not accept it,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said. Earlier, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said that India should also adopt the same attitude towards Americans. “Like they frisk, we should also be frisking them,” she said.

While United States has yet to accept that biased frisking of Shahrukh- decided by his religious and racial identity- has added to the negative image about the superpower’s democratic claims, Indians have reacted strongly against it, indicating that the incident is democratically unacceptable to them. Biased frisking of Shahrukh was totally undemocratic from the Indian perspective.

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Contrast: Fate of Malegaon Accused & Batla House “Encounter”

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian secularism is once again facing the test of whether there prevails a tainted approach in holding Muslims as “suspect” terrorists and sparing the majority from facing stringent anti-terrorist laws the former are subject to. Within less than a year of 11 being accused under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Act (MCOCA) for the 2008 Malegaon bomb case, a special court in Mumbai has decided to drop the stringent law against them. The accused include Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit. The court decided to drop provisions of MCOCA as there did not prevail substantial evidence against them (August 7).

Claiming that the state government would not remain quiet over the special court’s decision and would challenge it in the Supreme Court, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said: “We would initiate MCOCA against those involved in terrorist activities irrespective of caste and religion of the accused.” Irrespective of whether MCOCA is slapped again against the 11 accused, what stands out is that law is being allowed to take its own course. The burning question is, whether the law is being followed because the accused belong to the majority community. Why isn’t the same approach displayed in lifting stringent laws against Muslims still languishing behind bars, quite a few of whom have not even been given adequate chance to prove their innocence?

One may refer to last year’s Batla House (fake) encounter, in which two Muslims – Atif Amin and Mohd. Sajid were killed (September 19) as “suspect terrorists.” Mohd. Saif and Zeeshan were arrested as “suspect terrorists.” Till date, details have not been made public as to what was the “substantial evidence” that led to the killing of two and arrest of other two. What is more stunning that the two killed were not even given a chance to prove their innocence. It would have been a different case altogether had they been arrested and/or killed while they were in the process of triggering of some militant activity. They were killed and arrested from the place where they were residing at in Batla House. If the law can be allowed to take its own course, as indicated by action initiated against those accused of Malegaon blasts, why has not same approach been displayed towards the ones targeted in Batla House “encounter?” Is it because the Malegaon-accused belong to the majority community and in the Batla House case to the minority?

The ironical difference in the two cases stands reflected markedly in the approach of the near and dear ones of the ones accused in the Malegaon-case and the Batla House encounter. It was party time for members of Sadhvi’s family who distributed sweets after MCOCA was dropped against her. Her father, C.P. Thakur said: “I was confident that my daughter is innocent and had faith in judiciary. It was an attempt by the police to frame her and this is just the beginning. She will come out clean in the end.” With MCOCA dropped, it will be easier for Sadhvi and other 10 to secure bail.

Welcoming the court’s decision, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: “We welcome dropping of charges under MCOCA against Malegaon blast accused by Mumbai special court. With this the diversionary and fictional myth about Hindu terror has been smashed. It has been proven false.”

Rudy has a point. So do those who are of the opinion that Muslims arrested and/or killed as “suspect terrorists” are innocent and have been deliberately framed without being given opportunity to argue their case legally. Sajid’s father, Ansarul Hasan has not given up option of approaching the courts for justice. The process will not bring back his son, killed last year in Batla House “encounter” to life but at least it will enlighten others on whether to trust the Indian legal process when Muslims are shot dead only because they are “suspected” to be terrorists.

In a letter addressed to Chief Justice, Hassan pleaded that his son Sajid was innocent and an FIR be filed against the police personnel responsible for killing him. Hassan sought the court’s intervention as the police refused to register a case against its personnel involved in the encounter. Hassan also claimed that even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had refused to entertain his plea. Hassan’s letter came a few days after NHRC gave a clean chit to role of Delhi police in Batla House encounter. The report, released last month, claims that there was “no human rights violation by police in Batla House encounter.” The NHRC report has, however, been strongly criticized by social activists, civil rights groups and Muslim leaders, according to whom, it is based only on the police version of the “encounter.”

Against these odds, it is commendable that at least the Delhi High Court has not ignored Hassan’s letter. The matter has been posted for August 18, when the court would hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking independent inquiry in the Batla House case. One is nevertheless compelled to deliberate on the difference in legal trial having becoming easier for Malegaon-accused, while it remains arduous for relatives and supporters of those killed and arrested in Batla House “encounter.” Should the difference in the legal course of both cases be linked with religious identities of the accused? The answer, yet to be decided by higher courts, would certainly be a litmus test for whether a biased approach prevails in deciding judicial judgment for suspect terrorists, Hindus as well as Muslims!

11-34

Indo-Pak Joint Statement: Different Reactions

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-07-20T180844Z_01_DEL51_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-US-CLINTON

Sec State Clinton and India’s FM Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna smile during signing ceremony in New Delhi July 20, 2009.    

REUTERS/B Mathur

NEW DELHI: Ironically, though the Indo-Pak joint statement issued last week after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani has received a favorable response in most quarters, at home, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and few others have not welcomed it. The joint statement was issued after the two prime ministers held talks on sidelines of the Non-alignment Movement (NAM) Summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (July 16).

The statement described the two prime ministers’ meeting as “cordial and constructive.” “Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries. Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end,” according to the statement. While Singh “reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice,” Gilani “assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.” “Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats,” it was stated. The two prime ministers “recognized that dialogue is the only way forward,” and that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.” They agreed that the “real challenge is development and elimination of poverty,” “to work to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence” and “reaffirmed their intention to promote regional cooperation.” The joint statement also said that “foreign secretaries should meet as often as necessary and report to the foreign ministers who will be meeting on sidelines of the forthcoming UN General Assembly.”

Briefing the Lok Sabha (July 17) on his meeting with Gilani, Singh said: “We discussed present condition of India-Pakistan relations, its future potential and steps that are necessary to enable us to realize the potential.”  “It has been and remains our consistent position that starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfillment of their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India,” Singh stated. Gilani “assured” him that “Pakistan will do everything in its power to bring perpetrators of Mumbai attacks to justice,” and “there is consensus in Pakistan against activities of terrorist groups,” Singh said. “As the joint statement says, action on terrorism should not be linked to composite dialogue process, and therefore cannot await other developments,” Singh said. With India keen to “realize the vision of a stable and prosperous South Asia living in peace and amity,” Singh said: “We are willing to go more than half way provided Pakistan creates the conditions for a meaningful dialogue. I hope that there is forward movement in the coming months.”

Expressing strong opposition against delinking of terrorism from resumption of composite dialogue process, the BJP legislators staged a walkout from Lok Sabha soon after Singh had read out his statement. “You have delinked terrorism and the composite dialogue. Why have you taken seven months to decide on this?” asked BJP leader L.K. Advani. “If terrorism is set aside, then how does the dialogue become composite? It ceases to be composite as a composite dialogue has to be all-pervasive,” Sushma Swaraj (BJP) said.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who served earlier as foreign minister, said: “If the opposition wants, we can have a structured discussion. There is no provision in this house to seek clarification from the prime minister on his statement.”

“We will have a structured debate, but as a mark of protest I would like my party to walk out to this capitulation,” Advani said and led his party colleagues out of Lok Sabha.

Outside the Parliament, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said: “This step by India has come as a shock. It is sheer betrayal and U-turn by the government. They are buckling under international pressure.”

Initially, the Congress declined to comment on the joint statement. But later, the party said that there was no question of not supporting it or backing out. “There is no occasion for such a question. We are not required to endorse it after the PM’s statement. His statement leaves no scope for any doubt and there was no question of not supporting it or backing out,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said (July 20).

Welcoming the joint statement, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in Srinagar: “The cordial meeting between the two Prime Ministers has become historical as both countries have agreed to delink terrorism from Indo-Pak dialogue.” Several Kashmiri separatist leaders, however, said that Singh-Gilani meeting was “inconclusive” without participation of Kashmiris.

People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the opposition in J&K, expressed “disappointment” with the statement. “We are concerned over the omission of Jammu and Kashmir from the joint declaration and ambiguity about resumption of composite dialogue. This has caused understandable disappointment among the people of the state who looked up to the summit with considerable hope,” PDP leader and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said. Reiterating United States’ support for dialogue between India and Pakistan, the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week: “This dialogue between India and Pakistan is certainly one that could only be pursued with the agreement and commitment of the two countries and the leaders, but of course the United States is very supportive.” Earlier, Robert O. Blake, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia said in Washington: “India and Pakistan face common challenge and we will support continuing dialogue to find joint solutions to counter terrorism and to promote regional stability” (July 16).

11-31

Jama Masjid Shahi Imam Remembered For His Legendary Role

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

shahi imam

In this file picture taken on February 14, 2006, Shahi Imam of New Delhi’s Jama Masjid Mosque Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari addresses a press conference at The Jama Masjid.

NEW DELHI: Fire-brand Shahi Imam of historic Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Abdullah Bukhari is no more, but memories of his legendary role live on. He is credited for being among the first Muslim clerics who strongly spoke and worked constructively to redress grievances of Indian Muslims. Suffering from illness, Bukhari (87) passed away at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), last week, where he had been admitted several weeks ago. Ironically, he breathed his last on July 8, the very day on which in 1973 he took charge as Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid. Though he passed on the charge of Jama Masjid to his son Syed Ahmed Bukhari on October 14, 2000, he retained the title of Shahi Imam till the very last. He was the 12th Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, a process which began during the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s reign. The Bukhari family was invited from Central Asia to take charge of Jama Masjid, with Shahjahan conferring the title of Shahi Imam on Syed Ghafoor Shah Bukhari on July 24, 1656. Since then, Imamat of Jama Masjid has continued in the family, with each Shahi Imam being succeeded by his son.

Bukhari played a crucial role in 1947 in persuading Muslims not to migrate to Pakistan. When he was asked decades later (in 2004) by former Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan on had he ever thought of shifting to Pakistan, Bukhari replied: “India is my country and the very question of leaving it cannot arise at all.” His protest against communal violence in Delhi’s Kishanganj area in 1974 led to his being jailed for 18 days in 1975. Bukhari shot into fame in 1977, when he campaigned actively against the forced sterilization drive pursued by then Congress government in parts of Old Delhi. His anti-Congress campaign played a crucial role in pushing then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi out of power in 1977 Lok Sabha elections.

Remembering Bukhari for fearlessly voicing stand against government’s anti-Muslim measures, Qazi Ayub Hassan Choudhary said: “He was the one who looked Indira Gandhi in the eye.” Bukhari is remembered by Muslims for providing thousands of them shelter in Jama Masjid when they were driven out of their homes by mobs during troubled times. He provided them food, clothes and medicines. In other words, his service to the Muslim community extended far beyond rhetoric, reaching out to actually aggrieved ones. Though Bukhari played an active role in favor of Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, it had limited impact.

Among those who knew Bukhari well remember him for his secular credentials too. When a Hindu couple, who worked for the Imam, passed away around four decades ago, Bukhari decided to “adopt” their son, Raju. The little boy lived and worked at Bukhari’s house till his marriage. One of daughters-in-law of Bukhari was a non-Muslim. She remembers him for having never imposed Islamic beliefs and practices on her, which she adopted out of her own choice.

In his condolence message, Vice President M. Hamid Ansari said: “I am deeply grieved to learn about the sad demise of Maulana Syed Abdullah Bukhari.” “A respected personality,” he “had an impressive record of religious service to the people,” Ansari stated. “He would remain a lasting exemplar of selfless service and his death has caused a deep void,” he said.

Expressing grief at his demise, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: “He will always be remembered in the history of Jama Masjid and the country.”

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “In his whole life, he served his nation and Islam. Today, we regret that the great scholar has left us. I am sure that after his death his successors will carry forward his tradition of secularism.”

Mourning his demise, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: “He worked towards the betterment of all communities.”

“Imam sahab was a dynamic personality. Besides being the Imam, he was always involved in raising social and political issues. He played a constructive role in 1947,” Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan said.

“The Imam was a great personality. He was a fearless man. He tried to pressurize the government to take up issues concerning the community. He had been a fighter for 30 long years. After Emergency (June 25, 1975 to March 21, 1977), he became more involved,” Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, the Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri mosque, said.

In its condolence message, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations said, that Bukhari played a “leading role” for Indian Muslims for over three decades.

Born in Sambhar, Rajasthan, Bukhari received his religious education in the capital city. He was laid to rest in the family graveyard on the northwest side of Jama Masjid (July 8). He is survived by four sons and two daughters.

Remembering his father, Ahmad Bukhari, the present Imam, said: “Not only did I love my father, I admired him and tried emulating him. He always advised me to fight against oppression and he would tell me that I should never succumb before the cruel. I have tried to uphold his principles.

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Community News (V11-I29)

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Researcher cited for excellence

zain Zainulabeuddin “Zain” Syed, who helped discover the mode of action for the insect repellent DEET in the Walter Leal laboratory at the University of California, Davis, has been cited for excellence in postdoctoral research.

The award, sponsored by the UC Davis Postdoctoral Scholars’ Association and the Office of Graduate Studies, is given annually to “up to two postdocs” for outstanding research accomplishments.

Mr. Syed received a certificate and $500 at a recent ceremony in the University Club. He was among the 12 finalists from a pool of 800 postdocs at UC Davis.

Syed, a native of Hyderabad,  India, was educated and trained in India, Germany and the United States. He is active in departmental events and in the Entomological Society of America (ESA). He delivered a scientific research lecture on “Maxillary Palps Are Broad Spectrum Odorant Detectors in Culex quinquefasciatus” on Dec. 10, 2007 at ESA’s international meeting in San Diego.

County sued for approving mosque plans

LODI, CA– The Lodi county has been sued by a resident’s association for approving the plans of a proposed mosque. The group known as the Morada Area Association is upset over the Board of Supervisor;s approval of the mosque, the Lodi News reported.

The Morada group claims that the Board of Supervisors violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not studying the effects the mosque would have on water supply, traffic and parking surrounding the mosque, which has yet to be built, according to Bill Fields, an active member of the Morada Area Association.

The mosque plan calls for a call for a 13,820-square-foot mosque to be built on two acres on the eastern Highway 99 frontage road, 150 feet north of Shippee Lane. It would be used as a prayer hall, classroom, multipurpose hall and offices.

Miss. mosque hearing rescheduled

MADISON, MS– A meeting to discuss the plans for a mosque in Madison this week has been rescheduled for August 3.

The Mississippi Muslim Association’s attorney, Roger Williams, said the group is trying to obtain a private sewer system and asked for a continuance of a public hearing that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

The city of Madison said it is not required to provide sewer services to the area where the mosque wants to locate.

The mosque would need a proper sewer system in place before going forward.

Kashmir Conference to be held on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON D.C.–Kashmiri American Council  and Association of Humanitarian Lawyers has released the list of speakers for the the 10th International Kashmir conference at Capitol Hill, Washington on 23rd of July. The conference will be held for two days.

The speakers include Ms. Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu, New Delhi; Senator Mushahid Hussain, Secretary General, PML-Q, Islamabad; Mr. Gautam Navlakha, Editor, Economic & Political Review, New Delhi; Mr. Tapan Bose, Film Maker & Peace Activist, New Delhi; Dr. Angana Chatterji, Indian-American, San Francisco; Mr. Ved Bhasin, Editor, Kashmir Times, Jammu; Mr. Jatinder Bakhshi, Chairman, Committee for the Return of Kashmiri Migrants (Pandits), Jammu; Ms. Harinder Baweja, Founding Editor, Tehelka, New Delhi; Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States; Ambassador Munir Akram, Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations; Dr. Richard Shapiro, Institute of Integral Studies, California; Amb, Husain Haqqani, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States,among others.

11-29

India Wants “Peace” with Pakistan

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Indo-Pak talks have been on hold since Mumbai-strikes in November last year. The two sides agreed to revive talks at first top-level contact last month in Russia on sidelines of a summit. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (June 16). On his return, while briefing media on his Russia-visit, regarding his talks with Zardari, Singh said: “We discussed India-Pakistan relations, which remain under considerable stress. The primary cause of this, as everyone knows, is terrorist attacks against India from Pakistani territory. I conveyed to President Zardari the full extent of our expectation that the Government of Pakistan take strong and effective action to prevent use of Pakistan’s territory for terrorist attacks against India, act against perpetrators of past attacks and dismantle infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. The President of Pakistan told me of Pakistan’s efforts to deal with this menace and the difficulties that they face.” “We agreed that our foreign secretaries will discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India and to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice including the horrendous crime of the attacks in Mumbai. They will report to us and we will take stock of the situation when we are at Sharm-el-Sheikh for the Non-aligned Summit in mid-July,” Singh said.

“I have spoken before of my vision of a cooperative subcontinent, and of the vital interest that India and the people of the subcontinent have in peace. For this we must try again to make peace with Pakistan. It also requires effective and strong action against the enemies of peace. If the leaders of Pakistan have the courage, determination and statesmanship to take the high road to peace, India will meet them more than half-way,” Singh said.

Undeniably, Singh’s comments suggest that India and Pakistan are making most of opportunities available to discuss terrorism and revival of their stalled talks. It was with this aim that Singh held talks with Zardari, without any “structured agenda.” During their talks, they also set the stage for subsequent meetings between them and at other levels. Not surprisingly, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on sidelines of G8 Outreach Af-Pak Summit in Italy’s Trieste city (June 26). It was the second high-level contact in a month. After his meeting with Qureshi, Krishna told media: “I am glad that this international conference has provided an opportunity for bilateral meeting with my counterpart from Pakistan.” The two ministers reviewed current status of Indo-Pak relations, which have remained under “considerable stress” because of terrorist attacks on India by elements based in Pakistan, Krishna said. They agreed on “vast potential that exist in India-Pakistan relations.” Krishna conveyed New Delhi’s stand, that India is “ready to meet Pakistan more than half way to utilize and harness that potential for our mutual benefit. At the same time, we have to address centrally why our relations come under stress recurrently.”

Efforts being made to bring Indo-Pak ties on track assume significance, as United States is also keen on improvement in their bilateral relations. In keeping with Af-Pak policy being pursued by President Barack Obama, United States National Security Adviser James Jones was here last week after stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jones held separate talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart M.K. Narayanan and other Indian leaders (June 26). Jones is first high-ranking US official to visit India following India and Pakistan’s agreement to revive stalled talks and discuss steps taken by Islamabad on tackling terrorism targeting India by militants based in Pakistan. Jones’ visit also assumes significance with it taking place ahead of proposed visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month.

The key issues touched on during talks Jones held with Indian leaders were: “Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there against India.” Jones is also understood to have shared his assessment of situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where operations are continuing against Taliban militants. During his talks in Islamabad and New Delhi, Jones laid stress that attacks such as Mumbai-strikes must be prevented, according to sources. He also “vowed” United States’ move to help India and Pakistan improve their ties and combat militant threat.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert O. Blake told a panel of House of Representatives last week: “India and Pakistan face common challenges, and we will support continuing dialogue to find joint solutions to counter terrorism and to promote regional stability.” “The timing, scope, and content of any such dialogue are strictly matters for Pakistani and Indian leaders to decide,” he said.

Though India remains dissatisfied with Pakistan having not taken necessary steps against those responsible for Mumbai-strikes, there is no doubt that two countries have displayed serious interest in recent past to revive their talks. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told a group of senior military commanders last week: “We must be vigilant about happenings on our western border, while at the same time, try to make peace with our neighbor.” Asserting that India should not be viewed as a “threat” by Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff Deepak Kapoor said: “It’s their own perception of threat, but India has never been a threat to Pakistan despite having superior forces” (June 27). Speaking to newsmen at the Combined Graduation Parade of the Indian Air Force cadets at the Air Force Academy at Dindigul near Hyderabad, he said: “We on our side like to live as peaceful neighbors. We will be happy if Pakistan fights terror not only on its western borders but also on the eastern border.”

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BJP Distances Itself From Anti-Muslim Hindutva

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Ironically, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been forced to deliberate on the political efficacy of the very strategy, which till not too long ago was projected by the party leaders as crucial to attract attention, media coverage and electoral victory. The party has been compelled to question its own approach towards its communal politicking because of its failure to return to power in Lok Sabha polls and also win lesser number of seats than it did in 2004 polls. Not surprisingly, at the party’s two-day National Executive meeting (June 20-21), the party decided to gradually change its political strategy. It was evident by the manner in which several party leaders held Varun Gandhi’s “hate speeches” responsible for the BJP’s defeat. Varun, first time legislator from Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), faces legal trouble for having made highly communal speeches targeting the Muslim community while campaigning.

At the end of the meet, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: “At our office-bearers meeting, two eminent colleagues of ours affirmed their faith in Hindutva but cautioned against any narrow, bigoted, anti-Muslim interpretation being put on it.”

During the meeting, Varun’s mother, Maneka Gandhi claimed that her son must not made a “scapegoat” and held responsible for the party’s poor performance. She faced strong criticism from BJP’s Muslim leaders, who hold Varun’s “hate speeches” as responsible for BJP’s defeat. During the “open debate,” when Shahnawaz Hussain expressed his displeasure at constant leakage of party’s internal matters, Maneka interrupted him, sources said. She claimed that Hussain discussed party’s internal matters with media most often. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, another Muslim face of BJP, came to Hussain’s defense saying that Maneka had spoken enough on Saturday. During war of words, Hussain and Naqvi blamed her son’s “hate speeches” for being responsible for party’s poor performance. To control exchange of verbal missiles, BJP president Rajnath Singh intervened and asked Maneka not to speak out of turn.

In BJP Muslim leaders opinion, Varun’s hate speeches led to polarization of votes in UP along religious lines, because of which the party lost several seats. The Muslims in BJP are also angry at Maneka for stating earlier that as Muslims were not BJP’s “core constituency,” her son should not be held responsible for party’s poor performance. Her claim that “Muslims do not vote for BJP” was also refuted by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde.

Maneka was apparently the only party member who spoke in defense of Varun, who attended the meeting the first day and stayed away on the second. Distancing itself from Varun’s “hate speeches,” labeled by his critics as “Pilibhit brand of Hindutva,” the party adopted a political resolution with a new emphasis on its approach towards people belonging to other religions. “Theocracy or any form of bigotry is alien to our ethos. Hinduism or, Hindutva is not to be understood or, construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms,” the resolution stated. It emphasized that giving equal treatment to all regardless of their personal faith is integral to Hindutva.

Irrespective of whether Varun’s “hate speeches” were responsible for BJP’s defeat, the poll debacle has certainly forced veteran party leaders to accept that to move ahead politically, the party has no option but to give more importance to Indian secularism. Besides, with Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports having confirmed that CDs of “hate speeches” Varun made while campaigning in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 were “not doctored” only spell greater isolation for him within his own party and political circles. Varun had claimed that CDs of his speeches were “doctored.” Defending her son, Maneka rejected the FSL report. “The entire tape is doctored, words have been interchanged…We will answer and prove in the court that the tapes are doctored,” she said on sidelines of the BJP meeting.

The FSL report, according to Pilibhit police, has paved the way for completion of investigation against Varun. Arrested in Pilibhit on March 28, on charges of making inflammatory communal remarks, Varun was released on bail from jail in Etah district on April 16, after he gave an assurance that he would not make any inflammatory speeches.

Undeniably, going by party leaders’ past record, it would be unfair to hold only and only Varun and his “hate speeches” as responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. As expressed by Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari: “Forensic lab reports have political implications, they have legal implications, and eventually it’s for courts to decide. But the larger political implication is that it has vindicated what this whole country has believed from day one — that Varun Gandhi, when he was uttering those hateful sentences, belittling and reducing the minority, was indeed reflecting the core ideology and the voice which emanates from the soul of the Sangh Parivar.”  Notwithstanding the hard reality that are many in the party who still have to answer for the role they played earlier in fueling communal violence for political gains, the BJP appears to have finally woken up to the strong truth: its communal politicking has little appeal for the Indian voter.

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