France May Ban Niqab

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

niqab2 PARIS (AP) — A top lawmaker from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party filed legislation on Tuesday to bar Muslim women in France from appearing in public wearing veils that hide their faces.

The bill by lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope, who heads the UMP party in the National Assembly, or lower house, has sparked criticism from some of his political allies. The speaker of the lower house, Bernard Accoyer, called Cope’s move “premature.”

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A panel of lawmakers has held hearings for six months on the all-encompassing veils that cover all but a woman’s eyes. It is to advise parliament by month’s end whether it believes a law banning such garments is needed.

In further criticism from within Cope’s own party, Labor Minister Laurent Wauquiez accused the lawmaker of using the debate over veils for self-promotion because he failed to await the conclusions of the parliamentary mission.

Sarkozy opened the debate on such veils in June, saying they aren’t welcome in France — but without specifying whether he wants a law against them.

A 2004 law bans Muslim headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols from classrooms. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in France wear the more extreme covering — which is not required by Islam. However, Islam is the No. 2 religion in France after Roman Catholicism, and authorities worry that such dress may be a gateway to extremism. They also say it amounts to an insult to women and to France’s secular foundations.

There has been concern over how any law banning the full veil could be presented without infringing on constitutional rights.

Cope’s approach is based on public order and safety. Article 1 of his proposal stipulates that “no one, in places open to the public or on streets, may wear an outfit or an accessory whose effect is to hide the face” except those with legitimate motives formally recognized. This was an apparent reference to certain cultural events and carnivals such as Mardi Gras, which Cope said last week would be exempt from his legislation.

Women failing to abide by the law, were it passed, would be subject to fines that could reach euro750 ($1,070), according to a summary by Cope last week.

He also introduced on Tuesday a parallel resolution — which does not carry the weight of law — stressing the importance of respecting the nation’s values “in the face of the development of radical practices which harm them.” The resolution states that all-enveloping veils harm “dignity and equality between men and women” and are contrary to French values.

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Swiss Politician Apologizes For Calling For Ban On Muslim And Jewish Cemeteries

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rachel Slajda

A Swiss politician has apologized today for calling for a ban on Jewish and Muslim cemeteries two days after the country voted to outlaw minarets on mosques.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” said Christopher Darbellay, president of the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland, a centrist party and the smallest member of the government coalition.

“It was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society,” he added.

In his call for the ban, Darbellay said, “I don’t imagine that in this country, every religion or sect can have a separate cemetery in every town. It wouldn’t be manageable to make these exceptions. … Principle requires that one does not distinguish on the basis of origin or religion.”

Darbellay has also called for a ban on burkas or veils worn by some Muslim women.

Switzerland made international headlines Sunday when residents voted to add a line to their constitution banning the construction of minarets, or prayer towers, on mosques. The initiative, backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, passed by more than 57 percent of voters.

“The minute you have minarets in Europe it means Islam will have taken over,” said one SPP politician.

The Swiss have a long history of trying to keep their culture free from the influence of both Muslim and Jewish immigrants.

In 1893, Switzerland banned the practice of shechitah, the kosher way of slaughtering animals, citing cruelty because the animals are not stunned first. Although the government opposed the measure, a group called the Anti-Semite Committee gathered more than 83,000 signatures to bring it to a referendum.

Even now, Jews and Muslims must import their kosher and halal meat from neighboring countries. In recent years, some groups have gone farther, trying to ban even its import. In 2003, for example, the Swiss Animal Protection group began a campaign to ban its import, but failed.

Six other European countries join Switzerland in banning the practice: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The European Union recognized such slaughter earlier this year and declared kosher and halal meat can be sold in every country, but did not go so far as to legalize the slaughtering practice throughout the EU.

Much of the xenophobia in Switzerland seems rooted in the belief that immigrants will not assimilliate into Swiss culture. In 2006, the citizenship application of a Turkish woman and religious teacher was rejected because she didn’t want to integrate into society.

Muslims are one of the fastest-growing groups in Europe, sparking culture clashes throughout the continent. In France, for example, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban the burka on the grounds that such veils oppress women.

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Farouk Shami To Vie For Democratic Party Nomination To Run For The Governor Of Texas

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Picture AD History was made this past week, when famous Owner of Farouk Systems (Brand: CHI-USA) Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur, announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party Nomination to run for the Governor of Texas. Since James Pinckney Henderson of Democratic Party became the first Governor of Texas on February 19, 1846, Thirty-Nine (39) Governors of Texas have come from Democratic Party; Six (6) from Republican Party; One (1) Unionist; and One (1) Independent [Sam Houston]. If nominated by Democratic Party and then elected, Farouk Shami will become the 48th Governor of Texas. More details at www.FaroukForGovernor.Com

Amidst slogans of “Farouk – Farouk: Yes We Can – Yes We Can”, under the huge white tent in the parking lot of Farouk Systems, Mr. Shami announced that he will be vying for the nomination of his Democratic Party on March 02, 2010 during the Texas Primaries, to run for the Governor of Texas in November 2010. Other candidates within Democratic Party include businessman Tom Schieffer, Fort Worth; schoolteacher Felix Alvarado, Fort Worth; rancher Hank Gilbert, Tyler; and satirist Kinky Friedman, Austin.

Farouk Shami tabled his issues during the campaign to be: Spending more money to make people of other States of USA and countries look at Texas as the place with the highest standard of education (not merely on the basis of standardized examinations); Support entrepreneurship by lowering tariffs and as such creating manufacturing jobs for Texans along the Texas-Mexico border and utilizing the skills and zeal of both Americans and Mexicans; Make Texas a State that exports Food; Reforming Health Care; and Preserving the Environment.

Attendees at this event said they are supporting Farouk Shami because despite several odds against him, he has always persevered to not only succeed himself, but also bring positive change to the lives of thousands. We do not need a career politician to be the next Governor: We need a problem solver; a person who understands the grassroots issues of diverse communities of Texas; and has a track record of providing practical solutions for our problems here in Texas: Mr. Shami is that person and most interestingly the present Governor of Texas Rick Perry has publicly acknowledged that.

Based on the past experience, it is estimated that a minimum of $10 million will be needed to run this campaign (if not $20 million) and Farrouk Shami, who has pledged to take a $1/Year Salary as Governor, is planning to some of his own and some of the money as donations from individuals of various communities.

The 2010 Texas gubernatorial election will be held on Tuesday, November 02nd, 2010 to elect the Governor of Texas, who will serve a four-year term to begin on January 15th, 2011. The winning candidate need only garner a plurality of votes, not a majority, to be elected Governor (as was the case with the 2006 election).
The Lieutenant Governor of Texas is elected on a separate ticket; as a result, the Governor-elect and Lieutenant Governor-elect may be (and have been) of different political parties.

Texas does not have term limits for its governors. As such, the incumbent Governor (Rick Perry), who has already set the record for total and consecutive time served as Governor, is free to seek re-election for what would be an unprecedented third four-year term (and has announced his intent to do so).

The Republicans and Democrats will select their nominees based on the results of primary votes held on March 02nd, 2010 (the first Tuesday in March) and, if needed, runoff elections will be held on April 13th, 2010 (the second Tuesday in April).

Perry has announced his intention to run for an unprecedented third consecutive four-year term in 2010. He faces a challenge in the Republican primary election from U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Wharton County Republican Party Chairwoman Debra Medina.

As for Farouk Shami, he has worked for decades in the field of hair-care products development, and attended cosmetology school at the University of Arkansas. He is notable for having invented the first ammonia-free hair-color, after developing an allergy to the chemical that initially led doctors to encourage him to leave his profession.

His company, the Houston-based Farouk Systems, currently employs 2,000 Americans, and exports its line of hair and skin care products under the BioSilk, SunGlitz and Cationic Hydration Interlink (CHI) brands to over 50 countries worldwide.

Shami plans to build a hair products factory in Palestine that will employ a projected 500 people.

On July 27th, 2009 Farouk Systems announced they will be bringing back jobs to America by opening a new plant in Houston that will employ approximately 5,000 people. They plan to market the products as made in the USA. Shami is a member of the board of the American Task Force on Palestine.

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Democrat Joins Gubernatorial race, Says He’ll Spend $10 Million in Primary

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Houston hair executive Farouk Shami says his focus is stimulating economy.

By Corrie MacLaggan, American Statesman

image_8677646 Houston hair care executive Farouk Shami said Tuesday that he’s definitely running for governor and that he’ll put in $10 million for the Democratic primary alone.
“I am in,” said Shami, 66, a political novice whose company sells CHI hair-straightening irons and BioSilk hair products. “I am 100 percent sure I will be the next governor of Texas.”

Democrat Farouk Shami says he’ll put in $10 million.

For Capitol watchers who weren’t paying close attention to Shami’s declarations in recent months that he was thinking of running, his promise of $10 million of his own money might make them listen.

“Nobody else can begin to say that,” said Chuck Herring, president of the Central Texas Democratic Forum, which hosted Shami at a lunch meeting Tuesday.

As of July, the leading fundraiser in the Democratic primary for governor, former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer, had $454,000 on hand. In the GOP race, Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had $9.3 million and $12.5 million, respectively.

Shami, a native of Palestine who arrived in the United States in 1965 and likes to say he’s “living the American dream,” said he’s planning a formal campaign announcement Nov. 19 at CHI USA in Houston.

Shami, founder and chairman of Farouk Systems Inc., said he’s not looking for fame or money and that he’d accept a salary of $1 as governor. (Gov. Rick Perry earns $150,000 a year and accepts about $115,000 of that, a spokeswoman said.)

“The people of Texas are really tired of career politicians who talk and work for special interest groups,” Shami said.

Shami, who recently announced that his company is bringing 1,200 manufacturing jobs from South Korea and China to Texas, said his campaign’s top priority is stimulating the economy, particularly with green jobs. He said that, as governor, he would create about 150,000 jobs by opening factories that would hire Texans to produce solar panels.

Shami “has a sincerity and a genuineness that are very attractive,” Herring said. “He’s untrained politically — that’s clear as well.”

Andy Brown, chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party, said an Austin reception for Shami on Monday evening drew people Brown hadn’t seen at party functions, particularly members of Austin’s Arab American community. “If his candidacy brings new communities to the active Democratic party structure, I think that’s a great thing,” Brown said.

Feras Mousilli, president of the Austin chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was also at the reception and called Shami refreshing.

“Obviously, he’s got a tremendous uphill battle ahead of him—he doesn’t have a typical name, the look, the background of most career politicians,” Mousilli said. But he said he found it appealing that Shami is not indebted to PACs or lobbyists.

“It’s rare to find somebody without those kind of ghosts in their closet.”

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Political Battle Over Regional Vs National Identity/Languages

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Muslim Mayor Inherits Possibility of Uniting Rotterdam

October 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Henry Chu, LA Times Reporting from Rotterdam, Netherlands

Aboutaleb_1
Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb

The veiled women clutch their children’s hands as they scurry past the liquor store, ignoring rows of vodka bottles on their way to the Muslim butcher’s next door.

Across the street, male customers emerge from the Climax sex shop with their purchases and quickly stride away without a second glance at the Turkish kebab restaurant just opening for lunch.

The conservative and liberal, religious and secular, Dutch and foreign stand side by side here in Rotterdam, in a contrasting and at times uneasy coexistence where social and cultural middle ground can be elusive.

The job of finding that middle ground has now fallen onto the shoulders of a thoughtful Moroccan-born Muslim who arrived in Rotterdam just nine months ago. His address: the mayor’s office.

Ahmed Aboutaleb is the first Muslim immigrant to lead a major Dutch city. The son of an imam, he was appointed mayor of Rotterdam late last year and in January became the official face of the Netherlands’ second-largest city.

His is the classic immigrant success story, the saga of a youth who landed in the Netherlands as a teenager, worked hard and climbed the social ladder, first as a journalist, then as a politician in free-wheeling Amsterdam.

But his nomination as mayor by political party leaders in Rotterdam, who sought someone of national stature for the largely ceremonial post, took even seasoned observers by surprise.

This is, after all, a city where the national clash over immigration and integration, particularly of Muslims, has been at its most volatile.

In 2002, Pim Fortuyn, a populist and openly gay politician who slammed Islam as a “backward” religion, was fatally shot by a white assassin claiming to act in support of the Muslim community.

How the 48-year-old Aboutaleb fares as mayor could well have an effect beyond Rotterdam’s borders. With ethnic minorities accounting for almost half its population, the city serves in many ways as a laboratory of demographic change for the rest of the Netherlands, and potentially other parts of Europe.

Thus far into his six-year term, analysts say, the bespectacled Aboutaleb has trod softly, getting a feel for Rotterdam’s tricky political landscape. Though he is a member of the city’s ruling left-wing Labor Party, as mayor he is supposed to hold himself above party politics.

Within the last several weeks, however, Aboutaleb has said that he intends to step into the debate on integration. Although he has not specified how, it will mean navigating a minefield of competing beliefs, agendas and power plays by politicians, activists and bureaucrats.

“That is quite a risk for him, because if he fails . . . there is nobody above him,” said Rinus van Schendelen, a professor of political science at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University.

As mayor, Aboutaleb must gingerly maneuver a cultural war pitting those who believe Dutch liberal, secular society to be under threat from a growing religious minority against others who say that Muslims and other immigrants have been unfairly scapegoated.

Right-wing politicians demanded that Aboutaleb demonstrate his loyalty by giving up his Moroccan passport (he holds dual nationality). Geert Wilders, the country’s most inflammatory public figure, declared that Aboutaleb’s appointment was “as ridiculous as appointing a Dutchman as mayor of Mecca.”

Muslims, by contrast, were excited that one of their own had risen so high — an “Obama on the Maas,” as some have dubbed him, for the river that runs through Rotterdam.

“I was really happy that he became mayor,” said pharmacist Jilani Sayed, 29. “A mayor has to hold the city together. He’s got the potential to do that.”

The mayor’s job is largely ceremonial, with the big exception of public safety and police, which comes under his supervision. But what the post lacks in direct authority it makes up for in influence and longevity.

“After every election, you are the one that stays. . . . So people start trusting you as the consistent part of the city government,” said Marco Pastors, head of Livable Rotterdam, the right-wing party of Fortuyn. “People look up to you, and when you are looked up to, you have powers.”

Aboutaleb declined requests for an interview. A spokeswoman cited the need for him to stay focused on his duties.

Friends and foes praise him for spending his first months on a listening tour of various neighborhoods, to help damp skepticism over the fact that he comes not just from Morocco but — as egregious for some — from Amsterdam, Rotterdam’s big rival.

But there have been missteps. Critics questioned an official trip Aboutaleb took to Morocco in June, during which he met the country’s foreign minister and appeared to step on the toes of the Dutch central government.

In August, a dance party for thousands of beachgoers devolved into pandemonium and brawls in which one man was killed. The mayor, criticized for not assigning enough police officers to patrol the event, ordered a two-year ban on such parties.

And in a foretaste of the challenges that await in the simmering caldron of immigration issues, the city in August fired integration advisor Tariq Ramadan, a well-known Islamic scholar. City officials said Ramadan’s hosting of a show on Iranian state television could be perceived as an endorsement of the regime in Tehran.

Although he had no role in the decision, Aboutaleb expressed support for it. That, in turn, outraged many Muslims here, especially the young, with whom Ramadan was a popular reformist figure.

“Aboutaleb goes with the wind of politics,” said entrepreneur Abdel Hafid Bouzidi, 30, who is of Moroccan descent. “He goes too much to the right.”

Right-wing politicians certainly laud Aboutaleb for criticizing his own and insist that he keep on doing so.

rotterdam mosque
Rotterdam Mosque, under construction, 2008.

Before his appointment as mayor, his highest-profile moment came during the national uproar after the 2004 slaying of anti-Islamic filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist who shot him and slit his throat. Speaking at an Amsterdam mosque, Aboutaleb sternly told Dutch Muslims that if they did not subscribe to the Netherlands’ values of tolerance and openness, they ought to catch the first plane out.

Pastors, the head of Livable Rotterdam, was a member of the conclave of city leaders who nominated Aboutaleb for mayor, and he took some heat within his party for acceding to the choice.

Now it’s time, he said, for Aboutaleb to start speaking out on “friction points” such as homosexuality and the role of women.

“In that position there are three good opportunities a week to do something about it, and he hasn’t,” Pastors said. “I think it’s OK to have the first Muslim mayor [of a major city] in Europe. But let it be somebody that means something to the integration of Muslims in Europe, and not just an able civil servant.”

Aboutaleb has acknowledged the pressure on him, especially from foes “who expect me to fail.”

“If I can succeed, I will be a key element in persuading immigrant communities that they can have access to power. If I fail, it will have huge consequences for those coming behind me afterwards,” he told a British newspaper soon after taking office.

“My job is to build bridges, and Rotterdam is a good place to do that,” he said.

“This is the city of big projects where the sky is the limit, but also a city with high levels of poverty. My job is to be mayor for everyone, from the businessmen to the kid from Suriname just trying to earn a living.”

henry.chu@latimes.com

Nathan Brown: Arab Democratic Movements

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Today is a hot (unusually muggy day from a hurricane a [thousand miles south] off the Pacific Coast of Mexico).  I am looking back to  a discussion documented in my notebooks in Berkeley with Nathan Brown and Mohammed Hafez–Brown is not Muslim, but he is a great scholar of Islam.  Professor Brown spoke to those present on understanding Islamicist politics and their electoral opposition to the often corrupt parties in power in their nation states.

Islamist Arab Parties – especially in Egypt – have had great successes in elections, but they almost never win. 

Mainstream “democracy” is manipulated by Arab leaders.  This is why Islamist Parties mostly refuse to take part in elections and often react violently by resisting against their rulers and their pseudo-“Parliaments.”  On the other hand, examples can be had in the victory of the Islamic Parties in Algeria which the Party in power refused to  recognize the results leading to a protracted civil war.  Another instance can be found in the Gaza 2006 election that Jimmy Carter and his observation team described as the fairest that they had ever witnessed, but both Israel and the United States and Egypt refused to recognize! 

Outside the Islamic world political Islamicism is equated with Nazism, but “It is more like [European] ‘Christian’ Democracy in that it, too, makes a religious reference to its politics.”  The slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Be prepared!” which resonates from the Koran itself, and is on the visual crest of the Party.  The Brotherhood began as a secular movement to help individuals to become better Muslims, but later its philosophy flowed into politics.

Dr. Brown maintained that “Elections in the Middle East have predicable results, but uncertain rules.”  For the most part they are designed for the government to win.  Those Islamists who contend find it  advantageous for them (see my article on Da’wa and Democratic Politics in a back issue of this  publication) although they are “not recognized as a full political party” by the establishment.  Yet they are able to weather a harsh political climate. 

They are “highly ideological, and enforce their principles;” so, that they “will not rupture into discordant fissures although debate and schism has arisen over minute issues.”

Hard decisions have to be made over elections.  Elections can raise the primacy of politics over religion which is always a concern amongst devout people.

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BJP’s Political Strategy: Singh’s Expulsion

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pakistan Day Parade and Mela on August 15, 2009

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release By PAA President Mohammad Qasim, General Secretary Muhammad Zahid

IMG_5908

l-r:  3rd adult from left, SM Khalid, PAA President Mohammad Qasim, State senate candidate Pam Jackson, Dr. Syed Taj, Canton Treasurer, Mr. Verma Ramesh, Michigan Democratic Party Treasurer, Ms. Natalie Mosher, State senate candidate, Mike McGuiness, Oakland County Demorcatic Pary Chair, fully visible man at farthest right (holding banner), PAA VP Ikhlaq Shah.

Alhamdulillah, it turned out to be the best and the biggest event the Pakistan Association of America has put together in its history since its existence in 1977. Thousands who attended are the living testimony of this fact.

The following are the guests from the Michigan Democratic Party who lead the parade with the Pakistani community and attended the event. Mr. Mark Brewer, Chairman Michigan Democratic Party; State Senator Mr. Micky Switalski; Ms. Rashida Tlaib, State Representative; Mr. Mike McGuiness, Chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party; Mr. Verma Ramesh Treasurer, Michigan Democratic Party; Dr. Syed Taj Treasurer, City of Canton; U.S. Congressional Candidate Ms. Natalie Mosher; State Senatorial Candidate, Ms. Pam Jackson.

Former PAA presidents Mr. Niaz Ali, Dr. Riaz Ahmed, Mr. Sardar Ansari, Mr. Mansoor Ahmad, Mr. Faiz M. Khan and Mr. Shakeel A. Lari were also present.
Governor Jennifer Granholm and Lt. Governor John Cherry could not make it to the Pakistani Parade, but they sent special messages to the Pakistani Community congratulating them on Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister, Ambassador and Consul General sent their special messages to PAA’s President Mohammad Qasim, asking him to convey their best wishes and congratulate the Pakistanis living in Michigan.

Besides the Pakistani community, a large number of non-Pakistanis participated in the colorful parade, which was lead by U.S. elected officials from various districts, famous stars Saud, Javeria, Arif Lohar and professional dholies and other instrument players.

Several media outlets attended: GEO TV, TMO, Urdu Times, Pakistan News and Voice of Pakistan Radio were all present to cover the parade and mela.

PAA gave awards and recognition as follows: PAA Community Services Award for 2009–Dr. Zubair Rathur (who has been doing voluntary community services consistently and generously).

Media recognition awards were presented to Dr. Abdul Raheman Nakadar, Mr. Masood Farooqi, Mr. Khalid Gilani and Mr. Faiz M. Khan. The Sharifan Bibi student scholarship award was given to Ms. Sana Ashraf of Sterling Heights. Special Awards were given to famous Pakistani drama on Geo TV “Yeh Zindagi Hai” to Filmstar SAUD and TV artist JAVERIA, presented by State Senator Mickey Switalsky.

There were various kinds of fun rides for the children who had a good time while their parents were enjoying the shopping for clothes, jewelry, media , etc. The food area was probably the most attractive area all day. Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike kept busy trying multiple options of Pakistani cuisine.

There was also a fashion show–American kids wore Pakistani clothes for the show.

Evening Entertainment: The concert was the most popular part of the whole event. Southfield Pavilion was filled beyond maximum capacity. Hundreds of people were celebrating and socializing in hallways and outside the pavilion. People joined the artists in signing, clapping and dancing. The musical concert lasted until midnight.

Artists in attendance: King of comedy Shakil Siddiqui, Chand Puri, Pervez Siddiqui, Fozia, Sumbal Raja, Naeem Abbas Rufi, Queen of Melody Fariha Pervez, and Legendary Arif Lohar.

11-35

Cynthia McKinney Demands Immediate Release After Her Gaza-Bound Boat is Seized by Israeli Navy

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party leader Cynthia McKinney, a longtime activist for the Palestinians, says her boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was seized by an Israeli navy ship.

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, whose relief boat was seized by an Israeli naval ship Tuesday for the second time in a year, is demanding the immediate release of her and 20 other activists.

McKinney, a longtime supporter of Palestinians, said her Greek-flagged boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was boarded by the Israeli navy.

“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us,” said McKinney. “Our boat was not in Israeli waters and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We’re asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”

The Israeli military issued a statement Tuesday saying that the boat had attempted to break a blockade of Gaza and was forced to sail to an Israeli port after ignoring a radio message to stay out of Gaza waters.

The statement said navy personnel boarded the freighter Arion without any shots being fired, and those on board were to be handed over to immigration authorities. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers.

“Nobody wants to keep them here,” he said. “They will be released as soon as they are checked.”

The humanitarian cargo was also to be trucked into the Gaza Strip after a security check.

In a statement released by the Green Party, McKinney said she had sent appeals to Obama and the State Department for assurances of protection for the relief mission. She said the boat was sailing in international waters when it was seized.

The White House nor the State Department was immediately available for comment.

This isn’t the first time a boat carrying McKinney has clashed with an Israeli navy ship. In December, McKinney was among 16 people aboard a medical supply boat that collided with an Israeli naval ship as it tried to enter coastal waters around Gaza.

At the time, the group claimed the Israeli military fired machine guns into the water in an attempt to the stop the boat’s progress. But a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry said “physical contact” was made only after the aid boat failed to respond to radio contact and he denied any gunfire had occurred.

Israel launched an offensive in December against Gaza in an attempt to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. The two sides reached a cease-fire in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

11-28

Mahinur Ozdemir: First Belgian MP to Don the Hijab

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Abdullah Mustapha

2009-06-23T140409Z_01_THR004_RTRMDNP_3_BELGIUM

Mahinur Ozdemir attends swearing-in ceremony in Brussels 6/23/09. 

REUTERS/Thierry Roge

Brussels, Asharq Al-Awsat- When I met Mahinur Ozdimer in one of the biggest shopping malls in Brussels just one day before the Belgium elections that took place on June 7, I noticed that she was the only female candidate wearing Hijab as the candidates handed out leaflets and met and spoke with voters.

I asked Mahinur “Aren’t you worried about the reaction you’ll get from Belgian voters because you wear Hijab?” Ozdemir, a Belgium citizen of a Turkish descent, answered, “I will not take off my Hijab for the elections or for parliament. I wore the Hijab when I was working for Schaerbeek Municipal Council and I will carry on wearing it even in parliament.”

Despite the pressure she is subjected to because she continues to wear the Hijab, Mahinur always says that “efficiency alone is what matters, not the Hijab.”

Mahinur is the first parliamentarian to wear Hijab, but there is a problem; Belgian law does not allow MPs to wear headscarves in parliament. The issue has begun to raise controversy among members of Arab and Muslim communities and amongst the Belgians themselves.

MP Suad Razzouk from Belgium’s Socialist Party said, “Ozdemir will face two options: resign if she does not take off the Hijab, or give up her seat in parliament.”
Ahmed Mohsen, a member of the Green Party, said “I will work towards changing the current status as the right-wing, liberals and socialist parties caused the banning of Hijab in 95 per cent of Belgian schools with only five schools allowing it.”

The Socialist Party’s MP Sofia Bouarfa said, “I am concerned about the future of every female candidate who wears Hijab and wants to run for parliament because that person will face major challenges and difficulties. She is supposed to represent all parts of Belgian society and it is only normal that not everybody will be considerate of the fact that wearing Hijab is a personal freedom.”

Having won 2851 votes, enough to secure her a seat in Belgian parliament, local and international media rushed to interview Mahinur. Everywhere she goes there are local and international press and television stations from different countries such as Britain, Turkey and Australia that want to talk to Mahinur.

In every interview, Mahinur has insisted that there should not be so much emphasis on the Hijab that she wears but on the issues that are of importance to a Belgian citizen, mainly unemployment and housing.

Mahinur said, “I will work against unemployment and towards allowing the Hijab to be worn in the workplace and in schools.” She added, “I would like to point out that with or without Hijab, my view of the problems in this country and finding solutions to them and helping others will be the same. I cover my hair, but not my ideas, and the Islamic headscarf will in no way be an obstacle to my political activity. It should not be a controversial issue and I would advise those criticizing the Hijab to do away with the injustice that obscures their vision.”

Mahinur emphasizes that she is a Belgian of Turkish and Muslim descent by saying, “I was born here in Belgium and raised and educated in this country. I’m a third-generation immigrant and I come from a family that is devoted to serious and sincere work. My family supported me and celebrated my success in the elections.”

There is a large Muslim community that consists of at least half a million people in Belgium, the majority of which are Moroccans and Turks. The first generation of immigrants arrived in Belgium in the late 1950s to help rebuild the country following the destruction caused by World War II.

Mahinur got to a point where she avoided answering questions about Hijab after she found that there was too much focus on this issue, especially when it came to questions on the attitudes of her fellow party members towards her and whether people were open to the idea of a parliamentarian wearing Hijab. There was an incident during her party’s election campaign; the party had put up pictures of the candidates in Schaerbeek and Mahinur’s picture was enlarged so that people could only see her face, not her Hijab.

Commenting on the incident, Mahinur said, “The party officials explained that a mistake had been made either by the printing company or by an employee working on the election campaign, either of whom did not consult anyone else regarding the matter. I was angry but I am not now after the party explained the situation.”

There has been debate over the name of the party to which Mahinur belongs. The foreign media calls it the ‘Christian Democratic Party’ whilst a number of party members of Arab descent state that this is incorrect and that the correct translation of the party’s name is the ‘Humanist Democratic Centre.’

Taha Adnan, who works for the administration of the francophone government in Brussels, said that in 2002, the Christian Democratic Party changed its name to ‘Humanist Democratic Centre’ [CdH] and as a result, it lost the votes of many Christians in Belgian society. But in turn, it gained votes from a number of Arab and Muslim immigrants.

But how did Mahinur get into politics? When did she join the party? When did she decide she wanted to enter parliament and how did she choose which party to join?

“When I was a child, I always dreamt of being a lawyer, but I started wearing the Hijab at 14 years old, so I had to reconsider my future. So I chose to study Political Science at the Free University of Brussels, with a major in Human Resources, and I obtained a diploma in Management…My decision not to study law was not because it was too difficult, as I’m not the kind of person who gives up. Even if became a lawyer I would have entered the world of politics, which I came to understand quite well during my free time at the university through the internet.”

Mahinur stated that she read the programs of various Belgian political parties and liked the CdH, which calls for offering social aid, and upholding democratic principles and family values. “It is enough that it is a moderate party as I hate extremism, and the party’s program has a lot of respect for religious beliefs.”

Mahinur joined the party in 2004 when she was still studying. The following year she was offered the opportunity to take part in the municipal elections as part of the party and she joined the municipal council of Schaerbeek, which has a large number of citizens of Arab and Muslim descent, mainly Moroccans and Turks.

In the recent elections Mahinur ranked 21st, which was enough to guarantee a seat in parliament. In reference to her family, Mahinur said “They helped me a lot and gave me support. They are very happy for me.”

Describing her as a very eloquent speaker, the Belgian press says that Mahinur has a lot to say on social issues and social development.

However, the elections are over and the winners have been announced. Mahinur is now waiting to take the constitutional oath as the first parliamentarian in Belgium to wear Hijab though this goes against Belgian law.

Mahinur believes that she will be a member of parliament in Brussels alongside a number of Muslims who were chosen by the Muslim community living in the Belgian capital to represent them. The issues that they want dealing with include the banning of the Hijab in some schools, the prohibition of slaughtering animals at home for the religious festival of Eid al Adha or any other day, and the issue of financial aid required for Islamic associations to help them carry out their religious duty of serving members of Muslim communities.

Prior to Mahinur, several Muslim MPs entered Belgian parliament to serve their society’s interests.

MP Fatiha Saidi, a Belgian of Moroccan origin born in Algeria to Moroccan parents, says that she focuses on the issues of all races without discrimination and that her primary goal is to serve the oppressed, especially those with no residence permits or those who are jobless, and those who have problems with schooling and education etc.

Saidi said, “I have intervened in parliament with regards to the issue of slaughtering animals during the Eid festival or on other days. I raised questions on the matter in parliament and I questioned the Belgium Minister of Justice on racism in the Belgium labour market, the oppression that Muslim communities suffer and discrimination in the employment field.”

Saidi indicated that she has prepared a report to this effect to be discussed in parliament and that she has also raised the issue of Hijab in schools; “Discussions on this are still underway.” Finally, Fatiha Saidi added, “The Belgian people we work with do not share the same experiences or circumstances that Muslim communities experience such as nostalgia, racism and migration. This is why it is our role to clarify the nature of such problems to others through different means such as seminars and lectures within the party to which I belong or in parliament or during sessions, as well as in magazines, party-affiliated and independent newspapers.”

Mohamad Daif, of Moroccan descent, was one of the first Muslims to enter Brussels parliament following the 1995 elections. Daif said, “The religion of Islam is acknowledged here in Belgium and there is a representative body that is recognized by the Belgian government despite the strong criticism against it from some Belgium parties that refuse to recognize this body or Islam as a religion. As a Muslim citizen, I am of the view that the executive body for Muslims must have the ability to work and achieve the goals for which it was established, and that there must be enough finance to provide for this. Towards this end, my role in the party to which I belong – the Socialist Party – and my role in parliament has been to work towards eliminating any kind of racism by providing finance to different bodies and ensuring a fair share of financial aid to different institutions so that it can achieve its goals.”

It is clear that Mahinur has a lot of work ahead of her regarding the problems in the Muslim community but the important question remains; how will this parliamentarian escape the dilemma that lies ahead? Will she give up the Hijab? Or will the Brussels parliament turn a blind eye and let her take the oath and amend that specific article of the constitution? Deliberations to this effect are underway between different parties, and we will soon know the answers to those questions.

11-27

BJP Distances Itself From Anti-Muslim Hindutva

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-27

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

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

Muslims Lose Trust In Congress Party

October 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2008-10-17T080525Z_01_DEL35_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

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.

10-44

A Doomed Presidency

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

A doomed presidency: With the army poised for a coup and the Taliban winning hearts, Zardari doesn’t stand a chance

Courtesy Peter Preston, The Guardian

2008-09-09T133835Z_01_ISL506R_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-PRESIDENT
 

Forget labels. In reality, two giant parties struggle perennially for power in Pakistan. One is the politicians’ party, whose candidate, Asif Ali Zardari, has just been elected president. The other is the army party, which prefers bazookas to ballot boxes. Democracy in this pivotal country is a frail blossom. And Zardari is as frail as they come.

The crude apology for a party system in Pakistan is 60 years old and shows scant sign of changing. First, the politicians have an election and govern for a while. When they falter, the generals take over. Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf – they come and go, punctuated briefly by elected prime ministers (mostly called Bhutto). It’s a malign sort of game, growing perilously close to an endgame now. Indeed, President Zardari’s inevitably brief tenure may well be the end of it all as a third party – young, idealistic, fervent and brave – begins to tip the board over. You may not have heard the Taliban so described before, but that doesn’t mean that brute force isn’t with them.

In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s murder by hands unknown last December, the Pakistan People’s party had a triumphant election. It possessed just enough numbers in the national and provincial parliaments to deliver the presidency, but you’d be hard pressed to invent a more hopeless, doomed prospectus.

This president isn’t a politician. He’s a businessmen who’s been haplessly entangled in too much monkey business over the years. Nine years in prison for corruption on trumped-up charges? Perhaps they have never been fully, fairly investigated, but to too many Pakistanis he is Mr Ten Per Cent. He vows to fight against the Taliban and defend US interests, even when they include US special forces staging bloody raids inside Pakistan’s borders. He promises to put right a broken, increasingly beleaguered economy, and to spend another $15bn of American aid wisely and well. But what comes next will be failure, unpopularity and a new tide of sleaze allegations.

A year or two down the line, the men in braid will sense a familiar opportunity and mount another coup. Washington, glad to have the military back at the top, will find another $15bn. The army will buy more guns, and feed more of its private bank accounts. The looting of Pakistan’s hope and Pakistan’s future will proceed on schedule.

The twin supposed champions of democracy – Zardari and Nawaz Sharif – couldn’t have made a lousier fist of the past eight months: any sense of national interest was lost immediately in an orgy of squabbling. The governing party couldn’t have chosen a worse candidate for commander in chief (retaining most of Musharraf’s powers). And Nato’s American leadership, insisting increasingly shrilly that feebleness in Islamabad will give Waziristan’s cross-border invaders free rein in Afghanistan, couldn’t be hastening the demise of democracy more idiotically.

Zardari announced his arrival – to the Washington Post – as a warrior from Sind bent on destroying the ‘Lahore-Islamabad oligarchy’. The oligarchs scheduled for destruction are Sharif and a military top brass trapped between a new leadership they despise and a religious insurrection that is beginning to dismember the nation.

Yet the Taliban, whom the generals must defeat to get America’s billions, are much more than a gang of terrorist thugs. They are also a madcap reform movement of young men disgusted by corruption and the godless wheeler-dealers they think have drained the purity out of Jinnah’s ‘pure state’, and the success they’re experiencing in the borderlands and beyond shows that many ordinary Pakistanis agree with them. It’s a battle for hearts and minds and, on his record, Asif Ali Zardari is the predestined loser of last resort.

10-39

NSG-Waiver: Historic Or Black Day For India!

September 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

2008-09-06T180730Z_01_DEL23-_RTRMDNP_3_NUCLEAR-INDIA-SUPPLIERS

Supporters of India’s ruling Congress Party celebrate the approval of U.S.-Indian atomic energy deal in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad September 6, 2008. Forty-five nations approved a U.S. proposal on Saturday to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India in a breakthrough towards sealing a U.S.-Indian atomic energy deal.

REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI: The waiver granted to India by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for nuclear commerce with it, ending 34 years of the country’s nuclear isolation definitely marks a major diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (September 6). While it spells celebration for Congress and its allies, the waiver has given opposition parties and the left bloc a serious issue to strongly criticize the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Mixed reactions to India having secured the NSG waiver suggest beginning of a major political battle at home for the Congress, which is going to be a fiery one with national elections less than a year away.

Welcoming the waiver, Singh described it as “forward-looking and momentous decision.” “It is a recognition of India’s impeccable non-proliferation credentials and its status as a state with advanced nuclear technology. It will give an impetus to India’s pursuit of environmentally sustainable economic growth,” he said. Thanking United States and NSG members for “ensuring this outcome,” Singh said: “We look forward to establishing a mutually beneficial partnership with friendly countries in an area, which is important for both global energy security as well as to meet the challenge of climate change.”

Singh also spoke to President George Bush on telephone thanking him. Besides, “The two leaders expressed their belief that mutually beneficial relations between India and the United States were in the interest of their peoples, and were on a path of steady consolidation and multifaceted expansion, to which both leaders reiterated their commitment,” official sources said.

The NSG-waiver will “enable India to resume full civil nuclear cooperation with the international community to meet its energy and development requirements,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said. “We welcome this decision,” which “constitutes a major landmark in our quest for energy security,” he said. It “will open a new chapter in India’s cooperation with other countries in peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” he pointed out.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi congratulated Singh and Mukherjee for the NSG-waiver. Describing the waiver as a historic moment, Gandhi said it “marks the culmination of enormous efforts and skilful negotiations by our diplomats and nuclear scientists. Three decades of isolation have ended.” In a press statement, Gandhi congratulated the Prime Minister for his “conviction and commitment to pursue with determination India’s integration with global mainstream to meet requirements of our energy security.”

“This is a triumphant day for India. The NSG consensus … (is) culmination of years of hard work and cooperation between India and the US to bring India into the global nuclear mainstream,” US envoy in India David C. Mulford said.

Hailing NSG waiver as “historic” and significant victory for not just the government but for all Indians, Congress party spokesman Manish Tiwari said: “It is a historic day for India. It is a red letter day.”

Describing the waiver as a great victory for India, which will help in the country’s development, Samajwadi Party (SP) general secretary Amar Singh said: “India needs development and not nuclear bombs.” He also criticized the Indo-US deals’ opponents for “beating around the bush.”

While the NSG-waiver has spelt “victory” for Congress party and its allies, the opposition parties and the left bloc who have opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal think otherwise. Describing the waiver as a “stage-managed show,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi blamed the PM for having “compromised on national interests.” “In spite of winning the vote at the NSG meeting, the prime minister has lost the battle at home. The deal, in its present state, is going to have long-term consequences,” he said.

Senior BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said: “The Congress is saying that this will end India’s nuclear isolation. We believe this does not hold any ground.”  “India has walked into a non-proliferation trap. It has lost its right to conduct nuclear tests forever. NSG guidelines are tougher than the Hyde Act,” Sinha said.

“This is an injustice done to the generation next to come. The Manmohan Singh government has taken an unfortunate decision by submitting our authority before the United States,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader A. Vijayaraghavan said.

Indian politicians opposed to the deal have been further enraged on contents of a “secret” letter published in The Washington Post, just ahead of NSG meeting in Vienna. The controversial contents made public by Republican Howard L. Berman, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs committee, are viewed as at variance with the stand maintained by India so far. The 26-page letter states that the United States would help India deal only with “disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own,” such as trade war or market disruptions. “The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of nonproliferation commitments,” the letter says.  The Indian government is expected to take “letter”-issue with the Bush administration, sources said.

The letter has provoked the deal’s opponents to blame the government for “misleading” the Parliament, “hiding facts” and “lying” to the people over the nature of the deal. CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said: “The only option left to them (UPA) is that the Prime Minister should quit. But neither will they convene Parliament session nor will they quit. It is a shameless government.” Describing the waiver as a step in direction of total surrender of country’s nuclear rights, Karat said that the US orchestrated the NSG waiver as it wants the 123 Agreement to be operationalized. The waiver is in conformity with the Hyde Act. “Any new government that comes to power after next elections other than Congress should get the Indo-US nuclear deal terminated,” Karat said. The left would continue its struggle in this regard, he asserted. India has now become part of the “non-proliferation regime, which we have always found to be discriminatory and resisted so far,” Karat said.

“We continue to be opposed to 123 agreement. It’s a surrender of all our sovereign right,” Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary D. Raja said. In a statement, the CPI said that it is “not a historic day but a black day for India as far as our nuclear program is concerned. This waiver will kill our efforts to develop nuclear technology based on thorium.” Another strong opponent of the Indo-US nuke deal, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, who is also Uttar Pradesh chief minister, described the development in Vienna as a “black day” for India.

10-38

The Dubious ‘Popular Vote’

May 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Larry J Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, takes a close look at Hillary Clinton’s arguments that she deserves the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Courtesy Prof. Larry Sabato, UVA

Give Hillary Clinton credit. She has shown toughness, stamina, and persistence in one of the longest presidential campaigns in American history.

If super-delegates back Hillary Clinton, will they alienate loyal black voters?

She has fought hard and come back time and again in the 2008 primary season, defying the pundits who insisted on writing her political obituary prematurely. She has held the charismatic phenomenon named Barack Obama almost to a draw in the fight for votes and delegates in the Democratic party’s nominating battle.

As some of Obama’s weaknesses become more apparent, her arguments are drawing new attention, and at least a few Democratic leaders are considering them.

No-one is likely to agree on exactly what the popular vote is, or how it should be counted – the notion ought to be shelved

All that being true, it’s still very unlikely she will overcome Obama’s lead. With just seven states (plus Puerto Rico and Guam) remaining on the primary schedule, Obama is ahead by close to 160 elected (or pledged) delegates and, overall, by about 130 delegates, once the super-delegates are included.

This may not sound like many in a convention that will host more than 4,000 delegates, but party rules make it difficult to gain a sizeable number of delegates quickly. (Incredibly, you can win a big state and net a mere handful of delegates. The Democrats have developed a system so fair it is unfair.)

Changing the math

Here’s the basic dilemma for Hillary Clinton: How can she convince senior Democrats to turn their backs on the most loyal party constituency, African-Americans, who regularly give 90% of their votes to party candidates?

For the first time, one of their own has a real chance to become the presidential nominee and the occupant of the White House. The anger in the black community would be palpable and long-lasting if Obama is sent packing.

Democratic women appear unlikely to respond in the same fashion if the first serious woman candidate is turned aside.

Worry among super-delegates about Obama’s viability in the fall is not enough. The only conceivable scenarios that might change the present nominating math are:

a.. a campaign-ending scandal or gaffe by Obama
b.. a highly improbable series of victories by Hillary Clinton in primaries she is expected to lose (such as North Carolina and Oregon)
c.. a raft of polls showing Clinton defeating McCain handily while Obama is losing to McCain decisively (most current polls show relatively little difference in the Obama-McCain and Clinton-McCain national match-ups, though the prospective contests in individual states vary considerably)

How can it be that Clinton is so unlikely to prevail, especially close on the heels of her solid, impressive 9.2% victory in Pennsylvania on 22 April?

Why wouldn’t that victory generate significant momentum for Clinton, just at the moment when the remaining super-delegates prepare to make their decisive choice? Didn’t her 214,000-vote plurality in the Keystone State vault her into the popular-vote lead nationally, as she claimed?

The size and breadth of Clinton’s triumph in Pennsylvania certainly demonstrated the emerging limitations of Obama’s appeal, not least the disaffection of many whites, blue-collar workers, and low-income Democrats.

But it almost certainly will be Obama, not Clinton, who is on the November ballot under the Democratic label.

Michigan and Florida

Take Clinton’s claim about the popular vote. On the morning after Pennsylvania, she insisted that she had taken a narrow popular-vote lead, about 15.12 million to nearly 15 million for Obama. But this is classic “new math”, where the numerical answer obtained is often less important than the agile mental gymnastics used to get there.

Clinton’s total relies on two very dubious assumptions. First, one must incorporate the primary results from Florida and Michigan, two January contests excluded by the Democratic National Committee for violating the scheduling rules set by the party. This is no minor sum of votes – 2,344,318, to be exact.

Barack Obama has regularly done better than Hillary Clinton in caucuses

But no even-handed person would contend that Michigan, whose primary occurred on 15 January, should be part of the equation. Barack Obama’s name was not even on the ballot.

The vote total cited by Clinton conveniently excludes three caucus states won by Obama, in Iowa, Maine, and Washington. (Nevada, won by Clinton, is also left out of the tally.) No-one knows the exact number of votes cast for each candidate in these four states since the state parties, by tradition, refuse to release the data.

Eliminating Michigan, the Obama-Clinton match-up shows an Obama edge of a couple hundred thousand votes. Striking Florida brings it to about a half-million-vote Obama plurality. And the unknown caucus results would add at least 100,000 to his lead.

Comparing like with unlike

This discussion of caucus states raises another interesting subject. How can one compare primary and caucus states at all? By their very nature, primaries attract a large electorate in most states. A caucus is a very different political animal, requiring hours of commitment from each participating individual.

The concept of the national popular vote is borrowed from the general election, when it makes more sense

The caucus also is inflexible, beginning at a set, mandatory time. There are no absentee ballots and no excuses for troops abroad, medical personnel who must attend to the sick, or elderly individuals who cannot brave a lengthy, stressful outing. Caucus participation is usually just a fraction of the turnout that would have occurred had the state held a primary.

Therefore, the national vote total is heavily skewed to the states holding primaries, and this total mixes primary apples and caucus oranges in an unenlightening way.

The concept of the national popular vote is borrowed from the general election, when it makes more sense. However, in the nominating season the idea is dubious, and it is not a particularly useful measure for the undecided super-delegates. Nevertheless, it has been bandied about so much by the campaigns and news media that it has now become an inescapable yardstick of electoral validity for Clinton and Obama.

Key states

Other questions about the vote mathematics are also compelling. Should the voting results in November’s likely competitive states-the ones we often call purple – a mixture of Republican red and Democratic blue – be given special weight in the popular-vote formula? After all, the purpose of the nominating contest is to pick a candidate who can win the general election.

Both Clinton and Obama have won states critically important to a Democratic majority in November

Hillary Clinton has pushed this interpretation, but only up to a point. She wants her wins in competitive, significant states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania to be determinants for the super-delegates, yet she ignores Barack Obama’s victories in medium-sized toss-up states such as Colorado and Virginia.

With apologies to George Orwell, all states are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Overall, though, this game is pointless since both Clinton and Obama have won states critically important to a Democratic electoral college majority in November.

Different voters

The flaw in the state-based argument is also fundamental. Party primary electorates do not resemble the November electorates in the vast majority of states, so primary results tell us surprisingly little in most states about how a party presidential nominee will fare in the general election.
Think of it this way – perhaps 35 million Americans will have voted in all the Democratic primaries and caucuses by June, but the November voter turnout could reach 135 million people-and those extra 100 million voters are different, both in ideological and partisan terms, than the 35 million early-birds.

US territories

An ancillary issue is whether the U.S. territories, none of which has electoral college votes in November, should even be included in the party nominating system.

In an extremely close race, their delegates could decide the outcome of a presidential nomination, and potentially the Presidency itself. Should Puerto Rico, voting on 1 June, have more delegates than half the American states, as the Democrats have assigned?

Neither Clinton nor Obama will raise this concern, of course, but unbiased observers ought to do so. In most conventions, the territorial votes are a harmless matter, but every now and then, the unintended consequences of their inclusion could become enormous.

The long and short of the debate over the popular vote is this – no-one is likely to agree on exactly what it is, or how it should be counted.

There are considerable flaws inherent in the concept. The popular-vote notion ought to be shelved – but naturally, in this endlessly contentious campaign season, it will not be.

Professor Larry J. Sabato is director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and author of A More Perfect Constitution.

10-19

Thailand No Closer to Stability Post-Thaksin

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Thailand no Closer to Stability

By Farish A Noor,MMNS

Almost three weeks after the elections in Thailand, the country seems no closer to having a stable government of its own. The snap elections called by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, prompted by huge anti-Thaksin demonstrations in Bangkok and other major cities, led to the collapse of the Thaksin government. It also raised serious questions about the future economic development of Thailand that was seen as a model state in the post-1997 economic crisis era. But under the leadership of Thaksin the Thai economy was rapidly re-floated at a domestic political cost, thanks to the injection of large doses of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from other neighbouring countries like Singapore.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the reported plan to sell a large share of Shin Corporation, the Thai media and communications conglomerate, to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. The deal was said to be worth several millions and would have added substantially to the wealth and power of the Thaksin family and its clique of compradores and clients, but was subsequently shot down by local Thai economists who claimed that it was tantamount to ‘selling’ Thailand to foreigners.

But local economic nationalism was not the main or only factor that contributed to the fall of the Thaksin government: The political unrest in the four southern provinces of Patani, Jala, Satun and Narathiwat has led to the loss of hundreds of lives and a state of military emergency in the South and the disruption of local economic life there. Local Southern Thai leaders who come from the Malay-Muslim minority communities claim that the brutal methods used by the Thai army and police have made things worse, and the insurgency is set to grow more bloody in the weeks and months to come.

The fallout of the recent elections however means that nobody in Bangkok knows how the ‘Muslim problem’ in the South will resolve itself, or even if it is capable of being resolved at all. One of the tactics used by the opposition parties to bring down the Thaksin government was to boycott the elections in toto, on both a district and national level. The net result is that Thaksins Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party managed to win a substantial number of seats but were denied an effective majority. Worse still, there is now no effective opposition in Parliament either. The recent by-elections held on 23 April managed to fill an added 40 seats that were left vacant, but there are still many of the 500 Parliamentary seats to be filled.

Here then lies the first dilemma: Thailands constitution has no provision whatsoever for a situation where seats in the Parliament are left empty. The continued boycott by the opposition parties of all elections at local level means that many of these seats will remain vacant till the 30 day post-election grace period is over. When the day comes, Thailand will – for the first time – be without an effective government.

The second dilemma is faced by the Muslim minority and other disenfranchised communities in the country. The Muslims of Southern Thailand have been supporters of the Democratic opposition party and were disappointed with the election results that brought Thaksin to power in the first place in 2002.

The result of the first victory of Thaksin was both the marginalisation of the democratic party and the intensification of violence in Patani and the neighbouring Muslim provinces. Now that Thaksin has been forced out of his seat, the question remains as to who will run the country and which Thai leader and party will return to address the problem of violence in the Muslim provinces. Thus far no single party has even begun to address this issue, and while the stalemate continues in Bangkok the violence in the south also continues unabated.

Next month will therefore be a crucial date in Thai history as it grapples to put together a new government without a democratically chosen head of state. Thai analysts argue that there is little choice but to call for yet another election, this time with the opposition parties encouraged to take part. This still leaves the question of Thailands domectic politics to be addressed however, and it remains unclear whether many of the Thai Muslims of the south still believe in the democratic process and will remain to support the Thai Democratic party.

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