Aamir Khan Adds Gandhian Touch To His Campaign In Gujarat

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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Indian Diplomacy Towards Pakistan

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jama Masjid Shahi Imam Remembered For His Legendary Role

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

shahi imam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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