Kamala Surayya (1934- 2009)

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: With a hypersensitive and emotional spirit, reflected in her words – written as well as spoken – Kamala Surayya always moved on, stepping into controversial zones through her creative work and also her life-style. Ironically, her being a trendsetter is also marked by the homage paid to her and the funeral services held in her memory. She is one of the few Indian celebrities, who have been accorded state-level funeral services even though at the time of their death, they did not hold any high political or any authoritative post necessitating the same. Kamala, the well-known litterateur and poet, breathed her last in Pune (May 31), in a city hospital, where she had been admitted on April 18. Her body was brought to her native region, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on Monday. The body was interred with state honors at the graveyard of Palayal Masjid, where it was laid to rest (June 2). The funeral prayers were led by chief cleric of Palayal Masjid. 

Expressing grief at Kamala’s demise, in his message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that her poems “focusing on womanhood and feminism gained her recognition as one of the most noted modern Indian writers.”

Kamala had decided to leave Kerala and stay in Pune around two years ago. She had said then: “Enough is enough. Kerala has become an inhospitable place. I can’t live here anymore. I am getting raunchy mails and obscene calls. Everything is being criticised. Even fellow writers are not on my side. Maybe because I don’t have power through politics. Maybe, because I don’t have the influence.” On whether, the discomfort she faced had anything to do her with her converting to Islam, Kamala replied: “No. It has nothing to do with that. The truth is Kerala can’t stand ‘brainy women.’ They expect women to be behind closed doors. Their roles are predefined. They don’t want women to explore.” She converted to Islam in 1999, at the age of 65, a little after passing away of her husband. Earlier known as Kamala Das, after conversion, she started using the name Kamala Surayya.

So Kamala left Kerala, with practically no intention of ever returning back. As she then said: “I don’t have anything left there. No sentiments. I am leaving everything behind- furniture and all my books. I am not taking anything. I have had enough of Kerala culture. I want to be at peace with myself.” Kamala also felt sad that the state she belonged to had not given her due recognition. It is, however, claimed that practical sense prompted Kamala to move out of Kerela and live with her youngest son in Pune. She had accepted the hard reality that because of failing health she couldn’t live alone anymore in her flat in Kochi. She longed to finally return to Kerala. During the last couple of months, Kerala Minister for Culture M.A. Baby visited the ailing Kamala twice. He is understood to have offered to make arrangements for a state funeral, befitting her stature, in her home state Kerala, where she really wanted to be laid to rest.

Kamala was born on March 31, 1934 in Punnayurkulam in Kerala, in a conservative Hindu family. Her father V.M. Nair, a leading executive, later became managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi. While her mother Balamaniyamma was a noted poet, her great uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was a literary stalwart of the time. Influenced by her mother and great-uncle, Kamala took to writing from an early age.  She was married at a young age (13) to Madhava Das, 15 years older than her. The couple had three sons.

Kamala began writing professionally after becoming a mother, with her kitchen table serving as her writing area after the housework was taken care of. “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing. That was my work area,” she said in an interview in 1996.

Among her most notable works is her autobiography, My Story (1976) which has been published in more than 15 languages. Other popular English works of Kamala include Asian Poetry Prize winner- The Sirens (1964) and Kent’s Award winner – Summer in Calcutta (1965). Her last published work in English is a collection of poems- Yaa Allah (2001). Kamala’s Malayayam works, for which used the penname Madhavikuttii, include short stories- Pakshiyude Manam (1964), Vayalar Award winner, novel Neermathalam Pootha Kalam (1994), poetry- Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996) and short stories – Nashtapetta Neelambari (1998).

She has earned laurels as well as criticism for her writings, viewed by “liberal” by some and “amoral” by others for their projection of women. In Kamala’s opinion, Indian women were suppressed and exploited. She wanted them to liberate themselves from age-old prejudices, which led to their sufferings.

Kamala ventured into the political arena for a little while and also directed her creativity to painting for some time. She floated Lok Seva Party to promote social and humanitarian work. She, however, failed to win Lok Sabha in 1984. But the lady moved on, creating waves through her pen. Her achievements and life extended beyond the pen, as she said: “I wanted to fill my life with as many experiences as I can manage to garner because I do not believe that one can get born again.” And so she did. Kamala Surayya is no more, but with her writings, she has joined the immortals.

11-24

Indian Voters’ Shrewd & Stunning Verdict

May 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-05-20T124442Z_01_DEL200_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-ELECTION-SUPPORT

PM-elect Manmohan Singh (R) addresses the media next to Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi (L) after their meeting with President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi May 20, 2009.  India’s Congress party-led coalition has the support of 322 lawmakers, Singh said Wednesday, giving it a clear majority in a new government.     

Reuters/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI:  Definitely, the average Indian voter has proved to be far more intelligent than sharp political analysts and key political parties probably envisaged him/her to be. The electoral verdict spells a return to power of not just the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) but also a defeat of controversial as well as highly sensitive communal issues raised by certain politicians. Besides, the poll verdict also indicates the major role that can be played by average Indian voter’s decision of not being taken for a ride by the tall promises spelt out by politicians in the fray. Not surprisingly, while the Congress leaders are celebrating their return to power with a massive lead over their rivals, the others are pondering are what could be responsible for their dismal performance. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has won 261 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, with it being only a few seats short of the magic number-272 needed to claim majority. National Democratic Alliance trails behind with 157 seats, the Third Front – 59 and Fourth Front securing only 27. While the Congress in UPA has bagged 205 seats, the BJP has managed only 116. The left front bloc in Third Front has won just 24. In the Fourth Front, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has failed to win a single seat, with its own leader Ram Vilas Paswan suffering defeat, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s score has fallen to four, while Samajwadi Party (SP) has managed to win only 23.

Compared to 2004 results, while Congress has gained more seats, most parties have fallen significantly short of what they gained earlier. In 2004, Congress won 148, the SP-30, RJD-23 and the left bloc – 61. The BJP has gained marginally as it won 110 seats in 2004. The performance of Congress in Uttar Pradesh has been phenomenal, where while in 2004 it could not win even 10 seats, this time it has bagged 21. Crediting party leader Rahul Gandhi for improving the Congress’ score in UP, Jyotiraditya Scindia said: “All credit goes to Rahul Gandhi for single handedly reviving the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. What worked was the combination of Manmohan Singh’s policies and Rahul Gandhi’s thrust on party cadres and youth.”

It is also held that SP lost Muslim votes to Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by having aligned with Kalyan Singh, who as the then UP chief minister is held responsible for demolition of Babari Masjid in Ayodhya (December 6, 1992). There is also the view that by reaching out to Kalyan, SP managed to attract votes of Dalits and Yadavs and thus could win 23 in UP. Revival of Congress together with SP’s political strategy prevented a substantial chunk of votes from Brahmins, Muslims as well as Dalits going to BSP. The BSP leader, UP Chief Minister Mayawati was apparently banking on winning around 50 percent of seats from UP, which sends 80 legislators to Lok Sabha.  It has won 20, increasing its 2004-score by just four seats.

Congress has also gained, with its Trinamool Congress (TC) winning 19 seats in West Bengal. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has won 33, Maharashtra- 17, Rajasthan-20, Kerala-13, Madhya Pradesh –12, Gujarat- 11 and Delhi- 7. The BJP has managed to win 19 in Karnataka, Gujarat -15, Madhya Pradesh- 16, UP-10, Maharashtra – 9 Rajasthan- 4, and 12 in Bihar, where its key ally Janata Dal-United has won 20 seats.

Interestingly, neither Congress nor of any its old allies have fared well in Bihar. Differences over seat sharing with Congress in Bihar, prompted RJD, SP and LJP to float the Fourth Front, that has secured only four seats. There is a view, that common Biharis, including the Muslims, have been “taken for a ride for too long by tall promises made RJD and LJP leaders. So they decided to teach them a hard lesson in these elections.” With RJD’s own score confined to four, that of LJP – zero, in addition to this being a hard hit for their political image, both the parties have lost the numerical importance they earlier held for UPA.

Conceding defeat, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said: “We accept voters’ mandate with full respect. If we have an overall view of the trends, then we see that we have performed below our expectations as we had expected our tally to improve from the last elections.”

Accepting that Congress has performed better than expected, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said: “The CPI-M and left parties have suffered a major setback in these elections. This necessitates a serious examination of the reasons for the party’s poor performance.” “The Congress and its allies have succeeded all over the country. They have done well on the platform they provided to the voters,” he said. Ruling out the option of left supporting the Congress-led UPA, Karat said that they would sit in the opposition.

“Our expectations have not been fulfilled, we admit. Congress is in a position to form the government. Let them form it,” Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan said. On prospects of left supporting the Congress, Bardhan said: “Why should they need our support? They don’t need our support. We will sit in the opposition and fight for the cause of the poor.”

Poor performance of BJP and the left bloc is also attributed to both groups suffering from a leadership-crisis. During these elections, while BJP was devoid of its chief campaigner – former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the left bloc had to manage without Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) comrade Jyoti Basu. Both have retired from politics due to health reasons. In West Bengal, unlike in 2004, when CPI-M won more than 20 seats, this time it has got only 9, while its rival TC’s score has increased from one to 19.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav holds BJP-candidate Varun Gandhi’s “hate speeches” and projection of Modi as future prime minister responsible for NDA’s dismal performance. “It may be right or wrong or he (Varun’s) might have denied, but his statement has caused immense damage. His statement was unconstitutional. It was against the country’s unity and must have affected the polls,” Yadav said. Terming projection of Modi as prime minister as a political mistake, Yadav said: “It was a factor. When the issue had come up, it created confusion among the people’s mind. Since the NDA had already declared a Prime Ministerial candidate (L K Advani) unanimously, the issue should have been dismissed immediately.”

Yadav’s comments suggest that in addition to its own campaign, Congress has fared well because of wrong strategies pursued by rivals in the fray. While politicians have yet to figure out causes of their defeat, the voter has shrewdly declared his verdict- giving all in the race to ponder over where did they fail. Undeniably, had Congress checked the seats won by BJP and its NDA-allies in states like Karnataka, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, it may have been able to form a single-party government. Though the Congress has fared well, it still has to deliberate on what prevented voters from extending it greater support!

11-22

US Envoy Writes of Israeli Threats

April 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Barbara Crossette

john_gunther_dean In the wake of the accusation by Chas Freeman that his nomination to lead the National Intelligence Council was derailed by an “Israeli lobby,” a forthcoming memoir by another distinguished ambassador adds stunning new charges to the debate. The ambassador, John Gunther Dean, writes that over the years he not only came under pressure from pro-Israeli groups and officials in Washington but also was the target of an Israeli-inspired assassination attempt in 1980 in Lebanon, where he had opened links to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Dean’s suspicions that Israeli agents may have also been involved in the mysterious plane crash in 1988 that killed Pakistan’s president, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq, led finally to a decision in Washington to declare him mentally unfit, which forced his resignation from the foreign service after a thirty-year career. After he left public service, he was rehabilitated by the State Department, given a distinguished service medal and eventually encouraged to write his memoirs. Now 82, Dean sees the subsequent positive attention he has received as proof that the insanity charge (he calls it Stalinist) was phony, a supposition later confirmed by a former head of the department’s medical service.

Dean, whose memoir is titled Danger Zones: A Diplomat’s Fight for America’s Interests, was American ambassador in Lebanon in August 1980 when a three-car convoy carrying him and his family was attacked near Beirut.

“I was the target of an assassination attempt by terrorists using automatic rifles and antitank weapons that had been made in the United States and shipped to Israel,” he wrote. “Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!” After the event, conspiracy theories abounded in the Middle East about who could have planned the attack, and why. Lebanon was a dangerously factionalized country.

The State Department investigated, Dean said, but he was never told what the conclusion was. He wrote that he “worked the telephone for three weeks” and met only official silence in Washington. By then Dean had learned from weapons experts in the United States and Lebanon that the guns and ammunition used in the attack had been given by Israelis to a Christian militia allied with them.

“I know as surely as I know anything that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was somehow involved in the attack,” Dean wrote, describing how he had been under sharp criticism from Israeli politicians and media for his contacts with Palestinians. “Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.”

Dean’s memoir, to be published in May for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Memoir Series by New Academia Publishing under its Vellum imprint, has been read and approved for publication by the State Department with only very minor changes, none affecting Dean’s major points. Its underlying theme is that American diplomacy should be pursued in American interests, not those of another country, however friendly. A Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, Dean resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel’s interests in his ambassadorial work.

Dean, a fluent French speaker who began his long diplomatic career opening American missions in newly independent West African nations in the early 1960s, served later in Vietnam (where he described himself as a “loyal dissenter”) and was ambassador in Cambodia (where he carried out the American flag as the Khmer Rouge advanced), Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand (where Chas Freeman was his deputy) and India. He takes credit for averting bloodshed in Laos in the 1970s by negotiating a coalition government shared by communist and noncommunist parties.

He was sometimes a disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors, and he often took–and still holds–contrarian views. He always believed, for example, that the United States should have attempted to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge rather than let the country be overrun by their brutal horror.

As ambassador in India in the 1980s he supported then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policy of seeking some kind of neutral coalition in Afghanistan that would keep the American- and Pakistani-armed mujahedeen from establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. For several years after the Soviet withdrawal, India continued to back Najibullah, a thuggish communist security chief whom the retreating Soviet troops left behind. After the mujahedeen moved toward Kabul, Najibullah refused a United Nations offer of safe passage to India. He was slaughtered and left hanging on a lamppost.

It was in the midst of this Soviet endgame in Afghanistan that Dean fell afoul of the State Department for the last time. After the death of General Zia in August 1988, in a plane crash that also killed the American ambassador in Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, Dean was told in New Delhi by high-ranking officials that Mossad was a possible instigator of the accident, in which the plane’s pilot and co-pilot were apparently disabled or otherwise lost control. There was also some suspicion that elements of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, its equivalent of the CIA, may have played a part. India and Israel were alarmed by Pakistan’s work on a nuclear weapon–the “Islamic bomb.”

Dean was so concerned about these reports, and the attempt by the State Department to block a full FBI investigation of the crash in Pakistan, that he decided to return to Washington for direct consultations. Instead of the meetings he was promised, he was told his service in India was over. He was sent into virtual house arrest in Switzerland at a home belonging to the family of his French wife, Martine Duphenieux. Six weeks later, he was allowed to return to New Delhi to pack his belongings and return to Washington, where he resigned.

Suddenly his health record was cleared and his security clearance restored. He was presented with the Distinguished Service Award and received a warm letter of praise from Secretary of State George Shultz. “Years later,” he wrote in his memoir, “I learned who had ordered the bogus diagnosis of mental incapacity against me. It was the same man who had so effusively praised me once I was gone–George Shultz.”

Asked in a telephone conversation last week from his home in Paris why Shultz had done this to him, Dean would say only, “He was forced to.”

Barbara Crossette, United Nations correspondent for The Nation, is a former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief in Asia and at the UN.

She is the author of So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1995 and in paperback by Random House/Vintage Destinations in 1996, and a collection of travel essays about colonial resort towns that are still attracting visitors more than a century after their creation, The Great Hill Stations of Asia, published by Westview Press in 1998 and in paperback by Basic Books in 1999. In 2000, she wrote a survey of India and Indian-American relations, India: Old Civilization in a New World, for the Foreign Policy Association in New York. She is also the author of India Facing the 21st Century, published by Indiana University Press in 1993.

Varun In Jail: His Communal Strategy For Political Gains Misfires

April 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-03-28T151939Z_01_PIL17_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-GANDHI-ARREST

Policemen clear the way for the police van in which Varun Gandhi, great-grandson of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and scion of a family dynasty, is sitting after he was arrested in Pilibhit, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 28, 2009. Police in northern India on Saturday arrested Gandhi over allegations he made inflammatory comments against Muslims. 

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: Political drama and media-hype raised over highly communal and inflammatory remarks allegedly made by Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for Lok Sabha polls carry a far more significant message than apparent. Undeniably, a primary motive behind the entire drama staged by Varun and his political patrons is to push him and the party into political limelight. Besides, Varun allegedly made provocative comments targeting the minority communities (including Muslims and Sikhs) to create a polarization of votes along religious lines in Pilibhit to attract the majority Hindu community to BJP’s side. Clearly, Varun tried his hand at the old-tainted communal card, which had incited public to the stage of riots over Ayodhya-issue, pushing BJP to the center stage as a national party from late 1980s onwards. The political novice apparently remained oblivious of the hard reality that the Indian voter has matured a lot over the past two decades. It cannot be ignored that 2002 Gujarat-carnage played a major role in pushing the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government out of power in 2004 elections. The anti-incumbency factor played a key role in helping Congress return to power, leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Varun has also given little importance to the hard reality that BJP does not have as strong base in UP as it did earlier, which is responsible for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati winning the state assembly elections in 2007 with a sweeping majority.

The situation would have been different were the national and/or UP government led by BJP. There is no denying that with her eye on capturing the prime ministerial position, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has no intention to agitate the minority community in UP and elsewhere. Hype raised by Varun’s political colleagues over his arrest and charges framed against him have ironically not played the part they probably aimed for. Nothing else can be a stronger indicator of this than the fact that neither Varun’s comments nor the subsequent developments aroused any communal frenzy to the stage of riots in Pilibhit. Yes, law and order in Pilibhit was put to risk when Varun allegedly made the inflammatory comments and when he courted arrest. The clash, the day he courted arrest (March 28) was between the saffron brigade activists and the police. This certainly defeats the logic exercised by Varun and his supporters to try inciting communal frenzy in Pilibhit.

If Varun assumed that by courting arrest for a few hours or days, he would return to the political field as a hero for his radical supporters, he has been proved wrong. This is marked by UP government slapping the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against Varun, which can keep him behind bars till elections are over. Thus, dismissal of the case filed against him on violating model code of conduct and grant of bails on other charges slapped on him spelt only a minor relief for him (March 30). He was granted bail on sureties of Rs 20,000 each in two cases – one related to allegedly causing breach of peace through inflammatory speeches and the other on charge of violating prohibitory order. The NSA was invoked against him the preceding day (March 29) for making inflammatory speeches at public meetings at Dalganj and Barkhera in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 and for giving an aggressive speech at the court gate on March 28, because of which his supporters turned violent and clashed with the police. The decision to charge him under NSA was taken at a high level meeting, presided by Mayawati. Clearly, this move signals that BJP’s rivals in UP seem prepared to counter attempts made by Varun and his supporters to incite communal frenzy for gaining political mileage by polarization of votes along religious lines.

A three-member advisory committee, comprising of one acting High Court judge and two retired judges, has been set up by Allahabad High Court to examine whether the NSA imposed on Varun is correct or not. The committee is expected to submit its report in three weeks. Till then, Varun cannot appeal against the NSA, which means that the political novice may have to contest polls from behind the bars.

While BJP leaders, including Varun’s mother Maneka have strongly criticized invoking of NSA, majority of other party leaders think otherwise. Blaming Congress and BSP for conspiring against Varun, Maneka said: “Misuse of such powerful laws is unjust to Varun and to the country. The BSP and Congress are desperate for votes. They put pressure on the authorities.” BSP’s key rival in UP, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav considers the NSA against Varun as a “tactic” of BJP and BSP to “generate sympathy” towards him. “If the BJP-BSP are not having any sort of tacit understanding, then why was Varun not arrested before the road-show?” he asked.

In the opinion of left bloc and the Congress, NSA against Varun is justified. “A very strong, tough message needed to be sent that no hate speech will be tolerated against any community and it has been sent,” Brinda Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said.

“Those who break law to get votes, do divisive politics with open eyes…. They should have courage to face the law if they break it,” Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. On whether invoking NSA in Varun’s case was correct, he replied: “If the state government is of the opinion that there is a threat to public order, it (NSA) can be used…. Can there be more threat to public order?”

11-15

Indian Muslims Demand Justice

February 5, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-01-29T141712Z_01_DEL203_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-MUSLIMS-PROTEST

A Muslim man says his evening prayers after a protest in New Delhi January 29, 2009. At least two thousand people rallied in New Delhi on Thursday to protest the killing of imprisonment of Muslims, saying innocent members of the community became targets after bomb attacks in India in recent years.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: With parliamentary elections likely to be held in two-three months, the Indian Muslims have started raising their voice with a new aggressiveness and force. The past week was witness to their protesting against being targeted in fake encounters as “terrorists” and also holding a daylong convention demanding reservation in jobs and education. The message is simple and the timing appropriate. With Indian politics no longer dominated by a single party or only two/three major parties, the Muslims are strongly aware of the significance that their vote holds for numerous parties in the fray. They do not want to be sidelined or ignored any more. This has prompted them to raise their voice as and when needed with a new force rather than remain only mute spectators to ongoing political developments.

Displaying their anger and protest against innocent Muslims being falsely labeled as terrorists, at least 3,000 Muslims gathered in the capital city last week (January 29). They arrived on a train called the “Ulema Express,” which started from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday (January 28), with number of demonstrators increasing during the 700-kilometer journey to New Delhi. They marched from the railway station to Jantar Mantar area, near Indian Parliament, the main spot where demonstrators gather. The protestors carried banners which said: “Let the truth prevail, bring the innocents out of jail,” and “Give us security, not tears and blood.”

They demanded a judicial inquiry into the Batla House encounter in the capital city in September, in which two Muslims were killed, following which two were arrested. Azamgarh hit the headlines then, with it being claimed as hideout of the suspect terrorists. Several men from Azamgarh were arrested as suspects. Questioning these moves targeting Muslims, Maulana Amir Rashadi, a leader of Ulema council, which organized the rally, said: “We want fake encounters like Batla House to end, We want innocent Muslim youth who have been arrested by the police to be let off in two weeks.”

“We will intensify our agitation if false arrests and harassment continues,” Rashadi said.

The protestors shouted slogans: “We will not let another Batla House happen.” They are also angry at the Inspector M.C. Sharma, who died during the Batla House encounter, being honored. The government has rubbed salt into their wounds, by doing so, but there is nothing surprising about it, according to Rashadi. “It is normal in Indian politics. The government has many faces,” he said. “After killing so many of our promising youths and dumping many more in jail, what kind of security can they provide us and what kind of trust do they expect from us,” he asked.

“We want a judicial enquiry on the Batla House encounter. Innocent Muslims are being harassed by the authorities and are seen with suspicion by everyone. Muslims are the most patriotic of all, and we have proved our loyalty time and again. We are tired of being used as a votebank, and then backstabbed by the political parties,” Rashadi said.

“The government has failed to give us relief. The police of every state are hanging around in Azamgarh. The Congress- led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has engineered a plot against us. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in Uttar Pradesh is competing with the UPA in killing Muslim youths,” Maulana Tahir Madani, also a leader of Ulema council, said.

Though initially several legislators, including Akbar Ahmed (BSP) from Azamgarh, Ilyas Azmi (BSP) and Abu Azmi (Samajwadi party) “promised to protect our boys and force the UPA to order a judicial probe in the encounter. But they did nothing,” Rashadi said. “All parties have played with our problems, but they have never tried to resolve them. We now intend to emerge as a political force to have our say in governance, and will put up candidates from Azamgarh and Lalganj in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections,” Madani said.

The council had chartered the train. On this, Rashadi said: “We paid Rs 1.4 million to the railway and chartered the train. We paid Rs 300,000 as security money at Azamgarh railway station. The entire money came through donations.”

At the “National Convention on Muslim Reservation,” organized by Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment (JCMOE), the participants raised demand for at least 10 percent reservation for their community in jobs and education (February 1). Describing Indian Muslims almost as backward as Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) and more backward than non-Muslim Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Muslim leaders expressed hope that their demand would be met. It is hoped that the “convention will serve to accelerate achievement of our cherished goals in order to make the Muslim community a real partner in the development process, particularly to the benefit of its backward sections so that the economic, educational and social disparities that exist are reduced and national unity transformed into national fraternity, through justice and equality,” Syed Shahabuddin, former legislator and convener of JCMOE said.

With it being a hard reality that “Muslims have been consistently and universally underrepresented in all legislatures since 1950, on an average to extent of 50 percent measured by population,” Shahabuddin said: “Both systematic and electoral reforms are needed not only to give the minorities their due but also to make our democracy more representative.”

“Muslims’ unilateral demand is reservation, reservation, reservation,” which they have been making for very long, Saiyid Hamid, Chancellor Jamia Hamdard said. “The demand cannot be ignored for too long” nor “remain confined to paper,” he said. Countering critics describing reservation as “crutches,” Hamid said: “They forget that without reservation, the gap of inequality would only increase.”

Drawing attention to repeated “assurances” being given by politicians having been forgotten, Justice (retired) A.M. Ahmadi said: “This has led to confidence minority held in the majority being shaken.” He expressed the hope that those in power will not turn a “Nelson’s eye” to Muslims demand for reservation.

Voicing strong support and commitment to Muslims’ demand for reservation, Minister of Chemicals & Fertilizers and Steel, Ram Vilas Paswan said: “There should also be reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.” Paswan, who is also Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) chief, drew attention to reservation accorded to Dalit Hindus being withdrawn following their conversion to either Christianity or Islam. Conversion does not spell any increase in their economic stature so there should be reservation for Dalit Muslims also, he said.

The left bloc leaders voiced support for Muslims’ demand for reservation, stating that India’s development was not possible by ignoring the Muslims. It was “unjust” to ignore Muslims’ demand for reservation, Debarata Biswas, general secretary, All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) said. The country will not progress without meeting their demand for reservation, Biswas said.  In a similar tone, A.B. Bardhan, general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI) said that “development of the country” can never be complete by ignoring the concerns voiced by Muslims.

Several speakers pointed out that “creamy layers” within the Muslim community should not be granted reservation.

During its draft resolution, the JCMOE declared launching of the “National Movement for Muslim Reservation.” The resolution expressed “regret” at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 15-point program for welfare of minorities having “not been implemented in letter and spirit.” The resolution appealed to the Muslim community and all Muslim organizations for their “wholehearted participation in the movement, unitedly” for “realization of their common long-cherished goals of progress and development of justice and equality for all.” The resolution also requested politically active Muslim organizations to “advise and guide the Muslim electorate” in coming elections to extend their support “unitedly and massively” only to secular parties committed to reservation for Muslims and “field adequate number of Muslim candidates, acceptable to the community in all Muslim-winnable constituencies.”

Though there is no denying that Muslims are playing their role by drawing attention of national forces to issues concerning them, only speculations can be voiced on the actual impact this will have. It can only be hoped that importance given to them now is not forgotten soon after the political frenzy linked with parliamentary elections is over!

11-7

Once Bitter Rivals, Mulayam & Kalyan Patch Up

January 29, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

babri-masjid

NEW DELHI:  Kalyan Singh, once the Hindutva mascot of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was the Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister when the Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. He has now joined hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), the very party that had earlier strongly criticized Kalyan for demolition of the mosque. Taking a U-turn on his earlier stand against Kalyan, Yadav said the former was not responsible for the mosque’s demolition. “He (Kalyan) did not do that. The mosque was demolished by Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” Yadav said within a few days of Kalyan quitting BJP to move closer to SP. Acknowledging that mosque’s demolition was Kalyan’s “moral” responsibility as he was the then UP chief minister, Yadav said: “Kalyan now represents the downtrodden and working-class and he has always been a supporter of their issues. We cannot call him extremist now.” On their being bitter political rivals earlier, Yadav said: “We were never enemies but opposed each other, as we have always been in opposite parties” (January 25).

On his part, suggesting a negotiated settlement on the disputed Ayodhya-issue, Kalyan said: “All concerned parties, including prominent Muslim clerics, saints and sadhus, intellectuals, historians and archaeologists, should sit together and find out an amicable solution to the dispute keeping in mind that the sentiments of no group or community are hurt.”

Ayodhya-issue is not responsible for Kalyan’s decision to resign from BJP. Announcing his decision to resign from all party posts in BJP, Kalyan said: “I am feeling suffocated in the party and it is impossible and humiliating to continue” (January 20). Clarifying that he had never asked for party ticket for his son or his supporters, Kalyan said that the BJP had ignored him while preparing candidates’ list from UP for Lok Sabha elections. “No one consulted me while preparing a poll candidates’ list for 80 constituencies. I just wanted Bulandshahr seat but they offered me ticket from Etah, which I have returned to party president Rajnath Singh,” he said.

Kalyan is angry with the BJP for nominating Ashok Pradhan from Bulandshahr. He holds Pradhan as responsible for sabotaging his son Rajveer Singh’s chances in assembly elections two years ago from Diboi seat in Aligarh. The preceding day, Yadav had said that Kalyan’s son was welcome to fight on a ticket from SP. When asked to comment on this, Kalyan said: “I would like to thank him for that. We will see.” Rajveer was inducted into SP and appointed its national general secretary, the following day.

Yadav is hopeful that alliance with Kalyan will swing the Dalit-vote in their favor and create a dent in the support enjoyed by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which at present heads the UP government under Chief Minister Mayawati.

The U-turn in Yadav’s attitude towards Kalyan has angered quite a few Muslim leaders within SP. Azam Khan, known as an important Muslim leader of SP, has strongly opposed Yadav’s decision to join hands with Kalyan. “This is just not acceptable to me. Kalyan Singh is a hardcore RSS man who was directly responsible for the demolition of the Babari Masjid. How can I brush shoulders with a man like him? What has led Mulayam Singhji to go for such an alignment?”

Saleem Sherwani, who has been elected to Lok Sabha five times, voiced his opposition to the “Kalyan deal” by expressing his decision to contest the Budaun seat as an independent candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Sherwani is disillusioned with Yadav at his decision to hand over Budaun seat to his nephew Dharmendra Yadav. Though his nephew won the last election from Mainpuri, he earned a bad name there for ignoring the constituency and only allegedly furthering his personal interests. SP chief apparently decided to hand Budaun to his nephew as the constituency has 316,000 Yadav votes and around 290,000 Muslim votes. Sherwani’s confidence on winning the seat as an independent rests on his being favored by both the sections.

Muslim leaders within BSP have criticized Yadav’s tie-up with Kalyan to win the Muslim-vote. “We have always been calling bluff the Mulayam Singh Yadav’s claims of secularism. By joining hands with Kalyan Singh, he has shown his true colors,” BSP national general secretary and senior member of UP cabinet Nasimuddin Siddiqui said while addressing a party meeting in Allahabad (January 24). “Muslims must not forget that Kalyan Singh was the very person during whose chief ministership Babari mosque was demolished. Besides, although he has resigned from the BJP he has never ever expressed regret over the incident of December 6, 1992,” Siddiqui said.

Congress has no problems with the SP forging an alliance with Kalyan. “Though it’s a historical fact that the Babari Masjid was demolished in his (Kalyan Singh) time, now if the Samajwadi Party gives ticket to him or his son (Rajvir Singh), it is between them. We don’t have any problem with the alliance,” senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh said.

With the SP-Kalyan deal, according to BJP, the Congress can no longer call itself “secular” and cannot absolve itself from joining hands with those who were involved in the Ayodhya movement. One of the accused in the Babari Masjid demolition-case, Brij Bhushan Sharan, a former BJP member was already given a Lok Sabha ticket by the SP.

Irrespective of whatever political calculations may be responsible for the SP-Kalyan deal, Muslim leaders of UP have strongly criticized it. Describing it as an ill advised move, Zafaryaab Jilani, legal advisor to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and also convener of the Babari Masjid Action Committee, said: “Let us see what explanation the SP chief will offer to the Muslims during Lok Sabha elections.” The SP will pay heavily by losing Muslim votes in Lok Sabha polls is the opinion voiced by most Muslim leaders in UP.

11-6

Mumbai-Case: Indian Diplomacy Has Not Failed

January 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

 

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An elderly man walks in a park in Mumbai January 18, 2009.

REUTERS/Arko Datta

NEW DELHI: Two months have passed since Mumbai-terror strikes and the Pakistan-based elements, India holds responsible for the incident, have still not been nabbed. Undeniably, India is paying utmost attention to gain friendly countries’ support to pressurize Pakistan to take strict action against the suspected elements. While India has certainly gained support from practically all quarters, it would be erroneous to hold this as suggestive of the same countries of having turned against Pakistan. Practically all the dignitaries who have visited India, to convey their diplomatic support to Delhi over the Mumbai-case, have also visited Pakistan. Should this be assumed as a sign of India having failed in securing the kind of diplomatic support it sought in targeting Pakistan over the Mumbai-case?
At one level by through its diplomatic drive, India has signaled that the world is keeping a watch on the action that Pakistan takes against those responsible for Mumbai-strikes. India has at the same time tacitly acknowledged that irrespective of when and what action Pakistan takes, ultimately it is a problem to be sorted out at home. Along this line, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “We will have to tackle ourselves with our own sources and our own determination. We need to strengthen our own ability to deal with such attacks and our intelligence capability to anticipate them.” (January 17).

When questioned recently on the “perception” about India having “lost the diplomatic war against Pakistan” over Mumbai-terror strikes, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee replied: “It is not a diplomatic war; it is diplomacy. What we are doing is not offensive; it is just and proper. As the foreign minister, it is my responsibility to convince all concerned in the international community about the gravity of the situation.” “We are doing what every other responsible country would do after a situation like this. We are doing it in a responsible manner. We have been able to carry conviction with a large number of countries,” he said.

On India having “outsourced” its diplomacy to pressurize Pakistan on Mumbai-case, Mukherjee said: “No we have not outsourced this. We are telling everybody that you must address these problems; you must put pressure on Pakistan because this is not just an India-Pakistan relationship. These issues need not be seen through the prism of Indo-Pak relationship. They are a part of global terrorism and they should be confronted collectively. Therefore, you (the other countries) will have to play a role.”

With regard to investigations begun by Pakistan on the Mumbai-case, India has apparently decided to adopt a wait and watch approach. “We have received information from our High Commissioner in Islamabad that they (Pakistan) have started the process. Let us see how much time they take,” Mukherjee told reporters on sidelines of a function in Kolkata (January 17). Islamabad has officially communicated to New Delhi that the inquiry process was begun on January 15, Mukherjee said. On whether Pakistan was testing India’s patience, Mukherjee said: “It takes time. Diplomatic performance cannot be like switch on and switch off.”

Dismissing the notion of there being any link between Islam and terrorism, Mukherjee said: “There is no relation between Islam and terrorism. In fact, no religion has any place for terror. Sometimes religious texts are misinterpreted to commit terrorist activities.” “Terrorists are enemies of humanity,” he said.

Amid the backdrop of concern voiced across the world on Mumbai-terror strikes, it may be viewed as one of those cases in recent history, which has put Indian diplomacy to a strong test. Notwithstanding all the hype raised about the two countries being prepared for war, it cannot be ignored, that they have exercised utmost restraint in actually reaching the war-stage. While India has repeatedly stated, that it was “open” to all options, which include snapping ties with Pakistan, recalling the Indian envoy, ceasing the bilateral trade, stalling bilateral negotiations and many other measures. What is noteworthy, India has not actually moved forward to implement any of these options. Its decision to adopt a wait and watch approach regarding the measures Islamabad takes only implies that India has no intention to rush into exercising any military option against Pakistan. With two months having passed by without the two countries reaching the war-stage despite all the war-hysteria raised over the Mumbai-issue can only be commended as Delhi having played its diplomatic cards astutely enough, quelling the war options it may have otherwise rushed into.

To a certain extent, India may be indulging in anti-Pak diplomatic rhetoric over the Mumbai-case to divert attention at both the national and international levels about it having failed to strengthen its security adequately enough to prevent the Mumbai-terror strikes. With parliamentary elections likely to be held in April-May, the anti-Pak diplomatic hype may well be viewed as also a politically motivated drive.

True, the support earned by India over Mumbai-case from other countries can at most be viewed as cosmetic diplomacy. But whether viewed as cosmetic and/or plain rhetoric, exercising such diplomatic options is certainly wiser than driving the subcontinent to the war or war-like stage. War and/or any war-like exercise would only reflect failure of diplomatic options. Exercising and/or rushing into military moves, without giving adequate attention to all other moves would certainly have been viewed as a major diplomatic mess. Diplomatically, India thus needs to be credited for not having failed the Mumbai-test!

11-5

India Tones Down Aggressive Stance on Mumbai

January 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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NEW DELHI: Though India retains its stand on involvement of Pakistan-based elements in Mumbai-terror strikes, of late there has been slight change in the diplomatically aggressive stance adopted by it earlier against Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly criticized Pakistan while addressing a daylong conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security (January 6). During his inaugural address, Singh referred to Pakistan at least nine times. “A holistic approach to our security concerns is definitely called for,” Singh emphasized. “Our problems are compounded by the fact that we have a highly unpredictable and uncertain security environment in our immediate neighborhood,” he said. Referring to Mumbai terror case, he described Pakistan’s “responses” to “various demarches” from India as suggestive of it acting in an “irresponsible fashion.” Describing terrorism as the most “serious threat” faced by India, Singh divided it into three categories: “terrorism, left-wing terrorism and insurgency in the northeast.” “Left wing extremism is primarily indigenous and home-grown,” Singh said. He blamed neighboring countries, “mainly Pakistan” for terrorism and insurgency in northeast.

“The terrorist attack in Mumbai in November last year was clearly carried out by a Pakistan-based outfit, the Lashkar-e-Taiba” with “support of some official agencies in Pakistan,” Singh said. He also blamed Pakistan for “whipping up war hysteria.” Giving stress to implementing the policy of “Zero tolerance of terrorism with total commitment,” Singh said: “We must convince the world community that States that use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy, must be isolated and compelled to abandon such tactics.”

India apparently was (and perhaps still is) counting on securing influence of United States and other friendly countries to pressurize Pakistan in taking action on the dossier of evidence Delhi has given to Islamabad regarding the Mumbai-case. Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon handed over evidence to Pakistani envoy Shahid Malik (January 5). The Indian envoy simultaneously handed over the evidence to Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad. “We have handed over to Pakistan evidence of the links with elements in Pakistan of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26th November, 2008,” India External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement. Describing the Mumbai-case as “an unpardonable crime,” Mukherjee stated that India is briefing all its “friendly countries” on it. “I have written to my counterparts around the world giving them details of the events in Mumbai and describing in some detail the progress that we have made in our investigations and the evidence that we have collected,” he stated.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was subsequently scheduled to leave for US in a few days time to convince Washington about Pakistan’s role in Mumbai-strikes. The change in India’s approach in building up pressure against Pakistan at the diplomatic level is suggested by postponement of Chidambaram’s visit. “Balancing everything, it was decided three days ago that I stay back,” Chidambaram said (January 9). The decision to cancel Chidambaram may have been partly shaped by India facing internal problem over strike in petroleum sector, by the truckers and also the Satyam-fraud case. Besides, with the White House heading for a major change, criticism was voiced in various circles on what did Chidambaram expect to gain from his Washington-trip.

The decision on Chidambaram not heading for US over Mumbai case cannot be de-linked from the subtle but definite shift in aggressive posture adopted earlier by the government. India has come out more assertively than before (since the Mumbai case) in ruling out any military strike against Pakistan over Mumbai case. Rejecting option of India taking any “Israel-type” action against Pakistan over Mumbai terror strikes, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “I do not agree to that. Because this is totally wrong. The situation is not at all comparable.” “I have not gone and occupied any (of) Pakistan’s land which Israel has done (in Palestine). So, how can the situation be comparable,” he said during a television interview (January 10).

Suggesting that India is keen on exercising its diplomatic options rather than reach the war-stage, Mukherjee said: “We have not reached the end of the road.” “When I say all options are open, all options are open. There is no need of picking up option a, option b, option c, option d. No need of that. I am not responding to that. What I am responding to is options are open.” The options being considered by India at present are a response from Pakistan on “evidence” given by India regarding Mumbai-case. “We have given them (Pakistan). We expect them to act on it. If they do not act on it, then what follow up steps we will take and in what space of time it will take place, future course will decide,” Mukherjee said.

Amid the backdrop of criticism voiced against too many verbal missiles being fired in the subcontinent over the Mumbai-issue, the change in Indian government’s approach isn’t surprising. The government has no option but to tone down its aggressive posture. Besides, United States seems to believe that New Delhi should give some time to Islamabad to act on the evidence given to it. This is suggested by comments made by US envoy to India David C. Mulford over the past week. Regarding Pakistan’s approach towards “evidence” presented by India, he said: “You have, after all, a situation where there is a civilian government, a very strong military, a very strong intelligence agency and a media and other players. And I think you have to take a view that it is going to take little time to percolate to see what really is the outcome.” On how long should India should wait for Pakistan to respond, he replied: “It is not a question of time, although time is important, because to get into a situation where so much time passes, it makes them look uncooperative.” Describing it as a difficult task for Pakistan, he said: “So, frankly I think it is going to take time, it is not going to be easy, and it is not only going to take time and patience but some considerable restraint on the one hand and a continuing willingness to try to cooperate on the other.”

11-4

Indo-Pak Nuclear Diplomacy Continues, Unaffected By Mumbai-Terror Strikes

January 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the war-hysteria raised on both sides over Mumbai terror-strikes, they have not refrained from pursuing agreements inked regarding their decision to abstain from being engaged in open conflict. Adhering to the nuclear deterrence pact, India and Pakistan inked in 1988, the two countries exchanged lists of nuclear installations and facilities through diplomatic channels simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad on 1 January. Since their becoming nuclear powers and subsequently inking the deterrence pact, though Indo-Pak ties have ranged from being cordial to tense- as they are at present over the Mumbai terror strikes- they have continued the practice of exchanging these lists. The “Agreement on Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities” was signed between India and Pakistan by the then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto on 31 December 1998. It entered into force on 27 January 1991.

“Under the agreement, the two countries, on first January of every calendar year, are to inform each other of Nuclear Installations and Facilities to be covered by the agreement,” a press release from Indian ministry of external affairs stated. “The first such exchange of lists took place on 1 January 1992. This is the eighteenth consecutive time that both countries have exchanged such a list,” the statement said.

The agreement details the location of nuclear-related facilities in the two countries. Despite the two countries having come close to war, the exchange of lists has not stopped, sources said. Even when the two countries were in state of high alert in 2001, they exchanged the lists. Defying apprehensions raised about their nearing a conflict or conflict-like stage over the Mumbai terror strikes, they exchanged the lists this year too.

Ever since the two countries conducted nuclear tests, the western powers – particularly United States- have expressed concern about their nuclear prowess leading to a nuclear war in South Asia as India and Pakistan are known as permanent enemies with their being no sign of their resolving differences over long-standing disputes, including the Kashmir issue. Though since 1998, they have come close to war, once over the Kargil-issue and war-hysteria has been raised after the Mumbai terror strikes, India and Pakistan have not been engaged in any open conflict since achieving nuclear prowess. In this context, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy, resting on their bilateral understanding of nuclear deterrence defies fears raised earlier about their nuclear-status leading to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in South Asia.

Undeniably, apprehensions still prevail on whether nuclear weapons would contribute to stability in South Asia. Concern has been voiced over unintentional/intentional targeting of nuclear facilities by militants in either country and/or access to the same falling in wrong hands fuelling nuclear tension in the sub-continent. To date, however, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy only stands as a commendable illustration of their deterrence ensuring military restraint and a check on their moving towards open conflict. This may be illustrated briefly by the role played by nuclear prowess of the two nations, taking their ties from the stage of conflict to no-conflict in the first stage. Without doubt, there was a period when India remained suspicious about Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. The first major step in taking their ties to a positive level was the six-point accord reached between the then President of Pakistan General Zia-ul-Haq and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December 1985 in Delhi. Their agreement on not attacking each other’s nuclear installations was hailed as a significant step in establishing mutual confidence. This principle was re-emphasized when Gandhi and Bhutto signed the agreement in December 1988 in Islamabad.

Strangely, but definitely, there is a parallel between nuclear ambitions of India and Pakistan and a decisive improvement in their bilateral ties. It would not be wrong to state that their respective nuclear drives’ impact on the upswing in their relations fits into the theory of “classic deterrence.” Earlier than this, the two countries -known to shift between the stage of conflict, no-conflict and/or avoidance of conflict- had not even given serious consideration to the idea of entertaining cordial and/or friendly ties. The very principle of not attacking each other’s nuclear installations marked the beginning of some sort of nuclear dialogue between the two. Had they not taken this step, that of considering the deterrent factor, the past two decades may have been marked by constant threat of a nuclear holocaust erupting any moment in the subcontinent. Equally significant was their decision to resolve their nuclear tensions bilaterally. This also implied their accepting each other’s nuclear development. Had they criticized each other’s nuclear intentions and designs unilaterally, the issue may have assumed serious proportions for multilateral deliberations. With the two nuclear powers sharing border, notwithstanding their disputes, they opted for a strategy that best suited their interests, unilaterally as well as bilaterally, that is work towards normalization of Indo-Pak ties. Interestingly, notwithstanding all the diplomatic hype raised over the Mumbai-terror strikes, India and Pakistan have ruled out prospects of going to war on this. This only suggests that they are not likely to backtrack- for quite some time- from the wise and rational nuclear diplomacy they have pursued so far.

11-3

J&K Elections: Voters’ Message Beyond The Ballot vs. Bullet Fight

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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Omar Abdullah (L), president of the National Conference (NC) party, waves to supporters as Ali Mohammed Sagar (R), a senior NC leader, looks on during a rally in Srinagar December 31, 2008. Thousands of strife weary Kashmiris gave their new leader, Omar Abdullah, a rousing welcome when he arrived home on Wednesday after he was named to lead a new coalition government in the disputed Himalayan region. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

NEW DELHI: Despite the Jammu and Kashmir elections having thrown a hung assembly, ruling out prospects of single-party government in the India-occupied state, unlike the previous ones, these polls carry a different message. Though the elections were held with terrorism, as has been the routine in the past, bringing Indo-Pak diplomacy to the stage of tension, this time the issue of militancy in J&K was pushed to the backstage. It was overshadowed by excessive noise made in the subcontinent and elsewhere over terror-strikes in Mumbai, with India blaming Pakistan-based groups as responsible for these. The reported casualty in these elections was 12 civilian and five security personnel, compared to 220 civilian and 148 security personnel killed in the 2002 polls. This suggests a fall of 86 percent in militancy related incidents in 2008 polls against that in 2002.

Equally noteworthy is the large turnout of voters, 63.21 percent while that in 2002 was 44 percent. “In the last one year, there has been a reduction in militancy-related incidents and hence the fear factor was not there. The real success is wherever there was low percentage in the last elections, there was higher turnout this time and it showed that people wanted to participate in the democratic process in a big way,” according to Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami.

Notwithstanding the tensed Indo-Pak ties, marked by war-hysteria in certain political circles as well as media, amazingly these did not have any negative impact on the atmosphere in the J&K. Trade across the much-disputed Line-of-Control continued despite Indo-Pak animosity reaching a new height over Mumbai terror strikes. The cross-border trade, which began from October 21, continued amid the hype raised about India and Pakistan being near a war-like stage. For instance, earlier this month, as expressed by sources in Jammu: “A trader from Pakistan has sent a truckload of 150 boxes of oranges and 100 boxes of pomegranates besides 252 pairs of special Peshawari sandals to a business firm in Poonch.” The Indian firm had sent a consignment of 2,200 kg of tomatoes on December 23 as demanded by the Pakistan trader, they said.

Opening of LoC for trade between the two sides apparently has had a major influence on pulling Kashmiris towards the ballot box. This has assumed a yet greater importance in view of the weeks before the polls spelling tension within the state over Amarnath-issue. The three-month long tension, also marked by economic blockade of the Valley by extremist Hindu groups in Jammu, at one point even raised speculation whether the elections would be held in time. Amid this backdrop, the opening of the LoC for trade certainly carried a new meaning for Kashmiris (primarily Muslims) in the Valley. Even though trade across LoC has yet to reach substantial proportions, that it has begun, certainly signals a new importance being given to their economic concerns. The beginning of cross-border trade at LoC at least signals that Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir has been – at least now – pushed to the background, with economic concerns of Kashmiris being given greater importance. This is indeed a major move for average Kashmiris, who till the last elections, only seemed to be caught needlessly between the bullet and the ballot, with neither spelling a solution to their socio-economic problems.

Despite the Amarnath-row signaling a clear split, marked by polarization of votes, between Jammu and Kashmir, it is not without reason that Kashmiri voters turned out in greater numbers than before to cast their vote. Thus even though the Congress party won fewer seats this time (17) than in 2002, when it won 20, the party leaders have welcomed the results. “The large turnout of voters is a vote for democracy. It is a vote for national integration. As far as who wins or who loses is a secondary issue,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. Giving emphasis to electoral results carrying little importance than people’s participation, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said: “I have been saying from the very beginning that it dose not matter who wins, what matters is that the people of the Valley, the people of Jammu, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have placed their full faith in the democratic system which is a lesson to be learnt by our neighbors.” Highlighting the holding of state elections as scheduled, Gandhi said: “I have been saying from the very beginning that elections should be held in time and I am glad that they were held in time.

Compared to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having won only a single seat in 2002, this time it has managed to win 11. While some hold the Amarnath land-row as responsible for BJP’s gain, with there being split between Jammu and Kashmir on religious lines, others hold the poll outcome as reflection of voters “regional” divide.

In the 87-member assembly, the National Conference (NC) has emerged the party winning the maximum number of seats (28), followed by People’s Democratic Party (21), Congress (17), BJP (11), National Panthers Party (3), with one each gained by Communist Party of India-Marxist, Democratic Party Nationalist, People’s Democratic Front and four won by independents.

Notwithstanding the fact that a hung assembly carries apprehension of political instability in the state, by turning out in large numbers the voters have send a strong message. They have defied the separatists’ call for boycott of polls. This may not have been possible if security measures had not been enhanced and had the trade across the LoC not been opened. Though the turnout was still less than in 1987, which was more than 70 percent, it carries a great significance. The Kashmiris have taken a major step forward to display their preference for peace in the region. For the Kashmiris and the government, the significance of 2008 elections should not be confined to their having cast their votes in large numbers. Now, it is for the center to ensure that Kashmiris’ hopes expressed through the ballot boxes are not defeated by bullets!

11-2

Mumbai-Terror Strikes Dominate India’s Diplomatic Parleys

December 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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NEW DELHI: Diplomatic impact of Mumbai terror strikes has not been confined to the West, particularly the United States. The last week was marked by the issue being discussed between India and visiting dignitaries from countries closer, geographically than the US. The Mumbai-issue dominated the press conference addressed by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh before concluding his India visit (December 19). During his visit, Akhoundzadeh held discussions with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. India and Iran discussed tragic Mumbai incident, deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Akhoundzadeh said at the press conference.

The two sides also discussed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project as Mumbai-attacks have raised India’s concern about its security.  “We have expressed readiness on part of our country to take forward the project, the sooner the better,” Akhoundzadeh said. “We are expecting a response from India and Pakistan,” he added. On whether Mumbai-case has had any negative impact on it, Akhoundzadeh said: “This century is a century of Asia, with Asian capacities flourishing. The growing need for Asia is to meet increasing demand for gas.” “We feel that there are attempts from foreign powers, who do not welcome this project, to torpedo it. We feel leadership in Asia should be vigilant to look into their future demands,” he said. Referring to Mumbai case, he said that terrorism “should not deter the will and determination” of Asian countries to move ahead with project.

On Iran’s stand regarding Pakistan-based terrorists being responsible for Mumbai-case, Akhoundzadeh said: “It does not matter from which place they are. They should be dealt with iron hand.” “Terrorists have no religion, no patriotic value. India and Pakistan have proved in past few years that they have maturity to deal with terrorist cases. We should be coolheaded.  Whoever is behind it (Mumbai-case), the leadership of both countries should not fall victims to designs of terrorists,” Akhoundzadeh said. He pointed to leaders in both countries having fallen victims to terrorists, including Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto.

“No genuine Islamic individual would dare to endorse terrorism,” Akhoundzadeh said when asked on Islamic States’ stand on terrorism.

To a question on whether Indo-Pak dispute on Kashmir was root cause of terrorism in the region, Akhoundzadeh said that “growing sense of insecurity” in Afghanistan could be linked with it. With those (United States) who had “promised stability and development” to Afghanistan having failed, the State “could be the breeding ground for more terrorism,” he said.

The brief visit of Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawai Bin Abdullah was the first from a Gulf country since the Mumbai attack. During his meeting with Mukherjee, Abdullah “expressed deep condolences at the loss of life in the Mumbai terror attacks and solidarity with the people of India” (December 16). Abdullah noted: “There can be no excuse for not dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism across the Indian border.” Abdullah’s visit followed the landmark visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Oman last month. Mukherjee expressed appreciation on the telephonic call made by Abdullah soon after the Mumbai attack. He also apprised Abdullah of the results of ongoing investigations, which clearly point to “complicity of elements in Pakistan.”

During the two-day meeting of India-Russia Joint Working Group on Combating International terrorism, the Russian side “strongly condemned” the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and “reiterated their solidarity to the government and people of India.” “Both sides underlined their shared concerns on the growing threat of cross-border terrorism and reaffirmed their commitment for strengthening bilateral cooperation against terrorism,” according to a joint statement released on the two-day meeting (December 17).

Vivek Katju, Special Secretary in External Affairs Ministry led the Indian side, while the Russian delegation was led by Anatoly Safonov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Crime.

During the talks held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust,” India and Russia described their “cooperation in combating terrorism” as an important part of their “strategic partnership.” Giving stress to importance of “international efforts to prevent and fight terrorism” including the United Nations’ Global Counter Terrorism Strategy and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, they “underlined the need for expeditious conclusion of negotiations leading to finalization of India sponsored Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN General Assembly.”

India and Russia pointed out to “curbing financing of terrorism” as a “key component of counter terrorism strategy.” They also expressed concern at spread of narcotics in the region, which “directly threatens the security of both countries.” “They agreed on the need to further consolidate bilateral efforts for sharing information and expanding cooperation against drug-trafficking.” They noted the “growing threat of use of cyber-space by terrorists in their activities and the need to cooperate in this field,” according to the joint statement. They also agreed to “expand the exchange of information, experience and cooperation in the means of countering terrorism.”

The Mumbai-case was also raised during talks between Albania’s Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha and his Indian counterpart Mukherjee (December 19). Basha was the first foreign minister from Albania to visit India (December 17-20). Albania, Basha conveyed, fully shared India’s sense of outrage at the Mumbai attacks and considered terrorism as a common challenge for the international community.

11-1

Muslims Lose Trust In Congress Party

October 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) arrives with security personnel to attend the opening day of the second-leg of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi October 17, 2008.

REUTERS/B Mathur

NEW DELHI: Ironically, the questions raised over the role of the government, media and the police in the so-called “Batla House encounter” has pushed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into an unenviable position. Cutting across religious differences, while Muslims have questioned his “silence,” many Hindus have wondered at how the Prime Minister who had threatened to quit office over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has chosen to remain quiet over innocent Muslims being targeted as “suspect” terrorists. Alarmed at Muslims being disillusioned with him and his party, Singh tried assuring them last week that his government was looking into every possible way of restoring confidence of minorities (October 18). He said this in context of the Batla House encounter as well as the series of attacks on Christians in Orissa and Karnataka. Considering that he gave this assurance to a delegation of Muslim leaders from his own party, the move was apparently deliberately planned to try and convince the Muslim community at large that they should not lose hope in his government. With assembly elections due in six states in the coming weeks and less than a year left for national elections, political parties in the race are trying their best to prop up their image among the voters.

The delegation had earlier called on Congress chief, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chief Sonia Gandhi. Among others, the members included Salman Khurshid, K. Rahman Khan, Mohsina Kidwai, C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Imran Kidwai (Congress minority department chief) and Anees Durrani (minority department secretary).

“The Prime Minister expressed concern over the incidents and said that he would look seriously into every possible way to restore the confidence of the minorities and that he will take a decision soon on the issue,” Khurshid said. Singh, however, did not give any commitment on whether he would pursue the demand made by several other Muslim delegations for a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter.

Despite there being limited prospects of Singh’s “assurance” finding much favor among the Muslim voters, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have not refrained from blaming his party and its allies from indulging in the game of vote-bank politics. While addressing a party rally in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: “The Congress and its allies are engaged in the dirty game of vote bank politics. This has turned out to be a greater evil for the country than the issue of terrorism” (October 18). The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate also said that the UPA government had no right to continue in power as it had “failed miserably” in checking terrorism. Asserting that as it is possible only for BJP to combat this menace, the country needs a government headed by it. “The country has seen enough of terror attacks. Now, it needs a party that can not only combat this, but also root out the menace,” Advani said.

The Indian Muslims at large along with regional parties, with a secular bent, particularly the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), as developments suggest, have no inclination to give either Congress or BJP a chance to assume power in 2009 polls. The Batla House encounter followed by failure of the Congress-led government to take any constructive action in response to appeals and memorandums submitted by several leaders appears to have completely disillusioned the Muslim community. While they have lost trust in the Congress, they cannot afford to turn to BJP – which has played anti-Muslim card time and again.  ”Our youngsters have been killed in the name of terrorism. We had been associated with the Congress for decades, but now the same party has ditched us,” Akram (34), a resident of Okhla (Delhi), said. “We don’t want the Congress, but we don’t want the BJP either,” is the common comment made by Muslims of the area.

Lashing at the government for targeting only minorities, in its anti-terrorism drive, at a meeting of Muslim leaders, clerics and heads of Muslim organizations, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari said: “The government should proclaim the definition of terrorism. Is fake encounter not terrorism? Is it not an act of terrorism to burn alive Muslims in Gujarat,” he asked. “Is it not the act of terrorism to burn villages, mosques and churches in different parts of the country? And if it is the act of terrorism, then what is the meaning of alertness of the government and its security agencies only on bomb blasts whereas it overlooks other incidents of terrorism?” (October 14).

Not surprisingly, amid this backdrop, the SP and BSP members are trying their best to cash on the opportunity and turn the Muslims in their favor. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, BSP-chief, Mayawati called an all-India convention to discuss problems faced by Muslims (Lucknow, October 13). She blamed the Congress for having failed to combat terrorism and also for not taking sufficient steps for development of Muslims. “After independence, the Congress has ruled the country for nearly 48 years. During this long span, it never implemented any of the welfare schemes it announced for Muslims or other minority communities,” she said. At the gathering, Mayawati announced allocation of financial schemes to help raise educational standards of Muslims, from school to the university level. “An Arabic-Persian university will be set up in Lucknow. Several primary schools, junior high-schools and government secondary schools will be established in Muslim-dominated areas,” she said.

Not to be left behind, SP leaders have kept reiterating their demand for a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter. The SP plans to reserve as many as 40 percent of its seats for Muslim candidates for Delhi assembly elections. Since the Batla House encounter, SP leader Amar Singh has visited Okhla several times and addressed gatherings there to convince the Muslim populace that they should support his party. In his opinion, “The Muslim community is realizing how depending on any other party is a suicide. Congress has only used them to come to power and during Mayawati rule Muslim youth have been arrested from her state.” The latter point refers to police having made several arrests in Azamgarh, after the Batla House encounter.

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Indian Muslims Question “Anti-Terrorist” Moves Targeting Only Them

October 1, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

2008-09-26T114346Z_01_DEL12_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

Police frisk men before Friday prayers during the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad September 26, 2008.

REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

NEW DELHI: Within a few days of Delhi Police having claimed a major breakthrough in tracking down terrorists’ network, through its encounter called Operation Batla House (September 19) allegedly responsible for blasts that have rocked the country recently, the capital city was hit by another blast (September 27). A low-intensity explosion rocked a crowded flower market in South Delhi’s Mehrauli area in the afternoon, killing three and injuring around 20. While Muslim leaders across the country have condemned the Mehrauli blast, they have lashed at authorities for having failed to adequately combat terrorism. Blaming the police for targeting only Muslims as suspect terrorists, Indian Muslims representing different sections and regions, have held this anti-Muslim negative approach as responsible for country being hit by terrorist incidents.

In the opinion of Maulana Asjad Madani, chairperson of Freedom Fighter Hussain Ahmad Madani Education Front and a member of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) working committee: “It is because only innocent people are being arrested and innocent people killed in blasts and such operations, that actual terrorists manage to escape and continue their operations.”

“Till date, the authorities have not able to prove charges against a single Indian Muslim who has been arrested as a suspect terrorist,” Madani told TMO. The Muslim leaders are agitated about the authorities not adopting a similar attitude towards Hindu extremists indulging in terrorist operations against Christians and the ones caught while assembling bombs.

Madani also expressed concern that Muslims who are released after having languished in jails for months or years, are not given any compensation for having suffered because of false charges levied against them. “Their being released is of course a great relief for them. But even this step is taken as a great favor being bestowed upon them. They deserve compensation. Besides, action must be taken against the erring officers who levied false charges against them,” he said. Referring to Batla House encounter, Madani views as “fake,” he said: “If authorities are unable to prove charges against the two killed (Atif and Sajid), their families should be given compensation and erring officers punished.”

Mujtaba Farooqi, secretary Jamaat-e-Islami told TMO: “The Batla House encounter is just a minor example of the manner in which Muslims are being targeted as terrorists.” He and several Muslim leaders expressed the opinion that this “communal agenda” was a follow-up of September 11, 2001 attacks in United States with only Muslims being nabbed as terrorists, in keeping with anti-terrorism pattern followed there.

It was to express their protest against the government’s “negative” attitude that a large number of Muslim organizations and other like-minded leaders staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar (September 26), Farooqi said.

Mushir-ul-Hasan, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University, has decided to provide legal aid to two Muslims arrested, who are students of Jamia Millia. The two arrested for their alleged role in Delhi serial blasts are:– Mohammad Shakeel and Zia-Ur-Rehman. While his role has been appreciated by Muslims and secular minded Indians, the extremist, radical minded Hindu groups have reacted strongly against it. Demanding his resignation as the VC, they displayed their anger by burning his effigy (September 25).

Dismissing speculations of his taking the decision under any “pressure” or “compulsion,” Hasan told TMO: “It was an instinctive, spontaneous response to a crisis-ridden situation.” Elaborating on it being his legal as well as natural obligation to take such a stand, Hasan said: “One is basically trying to uphold the rule of law, in keeping with the international principles applicable in United States, United Kingdom and India, that unless proven guilty the accused is innocent.” Besides, he pointed out: “Students are our wards. We are their custodians not only while they are students but even afterwards. It is based on this confidence and understanding that parents decide to send their students here.”

When questioned on the apparent bias sensed by Muslims in Indian media’s approach towards the issue, he replied: “Some sections of electronic media are trying to hound us, castigate us by presenting only a negative image about Muslims (as terrorists).” Hasan views the government’s approach as “positive,” as it has so far respected the university’s autonomy and not interfered in his decision to provide legal aid to the students.

The apparent discrimination displayed by Indian police personnel in targeting Muslims as “suspect terrorists,” without any substantial evidence has also prompted Muslim leaders to demand a major change in the police services. Maulana Abdul Hameed Noomani, spokesperson for JUH, views the Batla House encounter as a fake one and deliberately planned. He laid stress on the need to reform the entire Indian police system. Drawing attention to recent reports of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu extremist organizations’ indulgence in terrorist activities targeting Christians and their being caught in assembling bombs, Noomani said: “Why hasn’t substantial action been taken against these groups? Just as these groups’ activities cannot be used to label the entire Hindu community as terrorist, why are only Muslims being cornered only because of the bias displayed by police and the media against them?”

The attempt made to “justify” Batla House encounter as “genuine” because of Inspector M.C. Sharma having succumbed to bullet wounds he received at the site has been refuted -by those viewing it as fake- posing the following questions. In their opinion, Sharma received shots from the back, from his own colleagues, who started firing indiscriminately to give the impression of their being engaged in a “heavy encounter.” If Sharma was killed in an encounter, where is the weapon by which he was killed, why have the forensic report of the bullets not been made public and whose fingerprints are present on the weapon that killed him? Besides, if the police personnel were sure of nabbing terrorists, why were some of them not wearing bulletproof vests? The fact that they went to the targeted house, without any search/arrest warrant only suggests that they were not even sure of whom would they meet there. The bullet wounds received by two “suspect-terrorists” killed in the so-called encounter were point-blank ones, which is “not possible in an encounter,” according to Madani.

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Delhi Rocked By Multiple Blasts

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

 

2008-09-14T064742Z_01_DEL211_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-ATTACK

The relative of a bomb blast victim mourns in New Delhi September 14, 2008. Police officers trawled slums and criminal hideouts in India’s capital on Sunday rounding up  suspects, after serial bombings in the city a day earlier killed at least 20 people and wounded nearly 100.    

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: Multiple blasts rocked Delhi Saturday evening within 45 minutes leaving at least 20 dead and more than 90 injured (September 13). The first explosion occurred at Gaffar Market in Karol Bagh, North Delhi. This blast took place in a CNG (compressed natural gas) auto-rickshaw and was followed by a blast in the gas-cylinder kept on a scooter right behind it. The impact of the blast was such that the auto rickshaw (three-wheeler) was tossed up in the air by at least 12 feet and got entangled in the overhead electrical wires, according to eyewitnesses. Within minutes, blasts on Barakhambha road went off near Metro Station in Connaught Place (CP), Central Delhi. These were followed by twin blasts in Greater Kailash (GK)’s M-Block market (South Delhi), which was immediately shut down. While one bomb in GK was said to be placed in a dustbin, the other in a scooter.

A high alert was sounded in Delhi, neighboring areas and all major cities of the country. “An alert has been sounded in the wake of the series of blasts in Delhi caused by bombs,” a Delhi police spokesman said.

At least ten shops were damaged in GK. In Karol Bagh, parked cars and motorbikes were badly damaged. The worst affected was Karol Bagh with bloodstains on roadsides, abandoned shoes together with personal belongings and badly damaged cars as well as mangled motorbikes telling the gruesome details.

Ambulances were immediately rushed to affected areas and injured shifted to nearby hospitals.Bomb disposal squads were rushed to all affected sites, which were cordoned off and the traffic diverted. Security was beefed up at sensitive points, including Metro and railway stations with metal detectors being placed at major market areas.

Though a terrorist group – called Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for bomb blasts, Delhi police refrained from confirming this. “The Indian Mujahideen has claimed something but we are not very sure about it,” Delhi Police Joint Commissioner Karnail Singh said. “Whether it is Indian Mujahideen or anyone else, we want to arrest those behind it,” he said. Asserting that there was “no lapse in security,” Singh said: “We had no intelligence about the blasts.”

“A special team has been formed to probe the blasts,” Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S. Dadwal said.

The police claimed to have defused four live bombs, one near India Gate, another near Regal cinema and two at central park in CP.

Minutes ahead of serial blasts, an e-mail was sent to media organiztions stating: “Indian Mujahideen strikes back once more. Within 5 minutes from now… This time with the Message of Death, dreadfully terrorizing you for your sins.” The message from email id, al_arbi_delhi@yahoo.com, also said: “Do whatever you want and stop us if you can.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the serial blasts and expressed grief over loss of lives. He appealed to the people to remain calm. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi described blasts as “dastardly” and an act of “cowardice”. Those behind the blasts will not spared and they have place in civilized society, she said.

President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Home Minister Shivraj Patil also condemned the blasts and appealed to the people not to panic. Condemning the blasts, Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit said: “We must keep calm and peace at this moment of hour otherwise those behind this sinister attack will get the impression that they have succeeded in their aim.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed that he had alerted the Prime Minister more than a week ago about a possible terror strike in Delhi. Condemning the blasts, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and Modi blamed the government for not having heeded the “warning.”

Stating that “no words can suffice condemnation” of the blasts, former primer minister, senior BJP leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee said: “The explosions that rocked the city are part of the conspiracy to spread terror and unrest in the country which reflects frustration of the perpetrators of the dastardly act.”

A day after serial blasts, the toll of which increased to 21, uneasy calm prevailed in Delhi. Home Minister Patil chaired a high-level meeting to assess the security situation. National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekar, Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta, Director Intelligence P.C. Haldar and Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S. Dadwal, among others, attended the 90-minute meeting.

“The meeting was held to review Saturday’s incidents on basis of whatever information is available,” Gupta said. Without elaborating on specific measures that may have delved on at the meeting, Gupta said: “We have discussed various measures that may be needed not only in Delhi but other major cities… After each incident you gain experience.” The government will work on measures needed in a time-bound manner and try to develop some do’s and dont’s as precautionary steps on which the ministry would advise all states, Gupta said. The union home ministry is taking all measures to “fill up any kind of gap, strengthening the machinery, the system and processes,” he said. “All matters would be put at the highest level, wherever necessary, with respect to any particular decision,” Gupta said.

Refraining from giving any direct reply on who could be responsible for serial blasts in several cities within a short span of time, Gupta said at this point of time focus should be on the investigations going on. “Neither you (media) or anybody should say or do anything which creates unnecessary apprehensions or whips up any kind of panic,” he said.

While addressing another gathering, Patil said that the government was taking all possible measures to check terrorist incidents. “The terrorists are trying to spread fear and terror among people through their evil designs. We will not allow them to succeed in it,” he said. “A thorough probe will be conducted and those guilty will be punished according to the law,” he said.

It is noteworthy that authorities are exercising caution in not blaming any particular religious or organization for the Delhi blasts. Earlier in the week (September 10), a delegation led by Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Maulauna Ahmed Bukhari met Prime Minister Singh questioning “double standards” exercised by Indian administration against terrorism, with Muslims being the main victims.

They demanded setting up of a judicial commission to probe into arrest of many Muslims as suspected terrorists, despite their being no substantial evidence against them. The judicial commission, they suggested, should have a proper representation of minorities to look into cases of those arrested from minority community in various terrorism-related cases, prior to judicial proceedings.

Besides, they blamed right-winged extremist groups, linked with saffron brigade- the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal for playing a major role in organizing terrorist attacks in India. The Muslim delegation pressed on the Prime Minister the need for a high level inquiry into role of VHP and Bajrang Dal in recent blasts in the country.

Bukhari also drew Singh’s attention to only either “poor” or rising young, Muslims being dubbed as terrorists. “While the poor cannot afford to approach courts, for the educated youth an arrest as a terrorist spells end of his career and misfortune for his whole family,” Bukhari told this correspondent. “We also urged the Prime Minister to look into arrests of Muslims as alleged terrorists, who have been in jail for more than two years, without any charges having been proved against them,” Bukhari said.

Blaming administration for following double standards, Bukhari said: “Muslims are being harassed and arrested in the name of being masterminds in terror acts that occur in the country or for having relations with a banned organization without any evidence on one hand without any proof. On the other, no action is taken against activities of VHP and Bajrang Dal.”

Bukhari met the Prime Minister in continuation of a drive he has begun recently questioning indiscriminate arrest of Muslim youths as suspected terrorists despite there being no evidence to substantiate these charges. A few days ago, Bukhari sent a one-page letter to prominent Muslim organizations and institutions suggesting a nation-wide all-party meeting to form a consensus and strategy on the steps that should be taken when innocent Muslims are arrested in the name of war against terrorism.

Among those who have supported Bukhari’s proposal are rector of Darul Uloom Deoband Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, rector of Madrasa Mazahirul Uloom (wakf) Maulana Mohammad Saidi, and president of Tanzeem Ulama-e-Hind Maulana Ahmad Khizr. Maulana Arshad Madani and Maulana Mehmood Madani (a legislator) linked with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) have also responded positively to the proposal. It is to be pursued actively after the month of Ramadan, sources said.

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Hindu Mobs Ransack Villages as Christians Hide in Forests

September 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Gethin Chamberlain, The Observer

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An activist from Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M) attends a protest against the killing of Christians in Orissa, in New Delhi September 3, 2008. Hindu mobs have burnt at least four more churches in eastern India, officials said on Monday, as religious violence appeared to spread. Thousands of people, mostly Christians, have taken shelter in makeshift camps in Orissa state, where Hindu mobs went on the rampage last week after a Hindu leader was killed.  

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Thousands of terrified Indian Christians are hiding in the forests of the volatile Indian state of Orissa after a wave of religious ‘cleansing’ forced them from their burnt-out homes with no immediate prospect of return.

A mob of Hindu fundamentalists rampaged through villages last week, killing those too slow to get out of their way, burning churches and an orphanage, and targeting the homes of Christians. Up to 20 people were reported dead, with at least two deliberately set alight, after the murder of a Hindu leader last Saturday provoked the violence.

In some districts, entire villages lay deserted, abandoned by Christian populations who would rather shelter in the forests than return to face the risk of death. Some villagers attempted to return to their homes yesterday despite threats of further violence.

But Christian leaders who had spoken to those who have fled said that even among the trees they were not safe. Some of their tormenters have pursued them, trying to finish the job.

One of those hiding in the forest, Abalkora Diggal, described how a group arrived at Balkidadi village on Monday morning chanting anti-Christian slogans. ‘In the evening, a much bigger group of over 1,000 people fired in the air and warned us to leave if we wanted to stay alive,’ he told a local journalist.

They fled into the forest, emerging only when they saw an aid convoy arrive under heavy police protection. Afterwards, they returned to the forest, without food or fresh water. ‘I had a home and a tractor. I reared goats and hens. Now I have nothing,’ said Mr Diggal.

Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India, told The Observer that many people were too frightened to return to their homes.
After speaking by mobile phone to some of those in hiding, he said: ‘They are living without food or drink and even there they are being hunted down by these people. I have spoken to nuns and priests who are hiding in the forests.

‘They said that it was a horrifying experience. Groups arrived at their villages carrying guns, swords and homemade weapons and even small bombs, which they used to blast the places. The groups targeted every Christian house in their villages. The people had a list of the Christian houses and institutions and none were spared.’ The Church said nearly 3,000 houses had been destroyed, most of them owned by Christians. More than 60 churches were burned down and at least half a dozen convents.

‘It is the result of a sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa,’ Rev Joseph said.

Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, described the violence as a ‘national shame’, while Raphael Cheenath, the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, called for an end to the ‘ethnic cleansing of Christians’.

The violence erupted after the murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati at an ashram last Saturday night, along with four other activists from the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) party.

It was claims by the VHP that Christians were to blame for the deaths that acted as a trigger for the killing spree, although Maoist guerillas have since claimed responsibility for the murders. Reports said that about 30 Maoists opened fire on the ashram. A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army said it had targeted Saraswati, who had campaigned against conversions and the killing of cows, for ‘fascist activities’.

The revenge killings have been indiscriminate: a 19-year-old Hindu Rajni Majhi was burned to death by a mob who attacked the Christian-run Missionary Orphan Centre in the Bargarh district.

Some of the 150,000 Christians in the Kandhamal area have been sheltered by Hindu neighbours, but about 5,000 are believed to have sought refuge in the forests, with up to 10,000 under guard in camps set up by the government.

Underlying the violence is a long-simmering dispute between Hindus and Christians in the state over the conversion of low-caste Hindus to Catholicism. The success of the Christian churches has fuelled resentment among hardline Hindus. The Vatican has condemned the violence. Most of India’s billion-plus citizens are Hindu, while just 2.5 per cent of them are Christians.

Shoot-on-sight orders were issued to security forces in eight districts and a curfew remained in place yesterday in nine districts.

About 3,000 Christians demonstrated outside the Orissa state building in New Delhi yesterday, holding placards calling for peace and condemning the state government. On Friday about 25,000 Catholic schools were closed in a symbolic protest against the killings.

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