Communal Violence Bill Incites Heated Debate

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Heated political debate is brewing between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Communal Violence Bill cleared recently by National Advisory Council (NAC), led by United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-head Sonia Gandhi. The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill 2011, if adopted by Parliament, will permit the center to intervene in cases of communal or targeted violence by invoking a provision in article 355 of the Constitution. As per this article, the bill permits the central government to declare any case of communal violence as “internal disturbance” and take actions considered appropriate. The center’s duty, according to article 355, is “to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and ensure the government of every state is carried on in accordance with provisions of this Constitution.” 

Criticizing the proposed bill, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said it would lead to intrusion into states, make the majority community culpable and damage inter-community relations. Countering BJP’s stand, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “We are shocked at the BJP’s reaction. Firstly, nothing has been finalized. Opinions are being sought from diverse sections. The BJP is trying to further its communal agenda. It is trying to do so by pre-emptive strike and debunking a draft bill under discussion.” He added: “The country knows which political party has communal agenda from its birth, continues to be bound by umbilical chord of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and carries the shame of Gujarat, Karnataka and Babri with ease.” With the party (BJP) being “naturally worried,” it has opted for this “pre-emptive strike,” Singhvi said.

The bill has also been described by the BJP as “dangerous, draconian, discriminatory and damaging to India’s federal policy.”  The Congress has retaliated by saying: “We will fight them to the end on this issue, there won’t be compromises. There will be a huge political cost involved for anybody who sides with the BJP on this issue.”

The Congress is confident that the BJP would be isolated in its opposition to the bill when it is introduced in the Parliament. “The BJP is free to challenge the constitutional validity of the law after it is enacted. Let it be tested in court instead of trying to abort it before its birth on petty and trivial grounds. The BJP’s pernicious propaganda is reflective of its communal agenda and guilt complex,” Singhvi said. The Congress is “determined” to bring the bill in the next session of the Parliament.

Rejecting BJP’s allegation on center’s plan to encroach into states’ domain, Singhvi said that the clause which permits this, also has safeguards. Before intervening, the center would first advise the state, if there was a communal flare-up. The center would wait for action and would intervene only if state’s inaction led the situation to further flare up.

Justifying the need for central intervention in serious cases, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal cited the experience of Gujarat-carnage. Despite nine years having passed by, FIR had not been registered in many cases, Sibal pointed out. A Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by Supreme Court, was still examining the need to lodge an FIR in the Gujarat-cases, which only necessitates the need for central intervention in extraordinary cases, Sibal said.

Demanding explanation on controversial provisions of the bill, which allegedly hold only majority community as responsible for riots, BJP senior leader Ravi Shanker Prasad said: “Tell us clearly, Soniaji- can the majority community in India become victims of communal violence or not?” Dismissing the need for the bill, Prasad said: “We all agree that riots should be prevented. But prevention should not become worse than the disease. There is civil society, courts and the media in the country which have helped in curbing riots.”

“There is no need for the bill. It will work to divide the majority and minority communities,” BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said. Blaming the Congress for using the bill to divert attention, Hussain said: “There is peace and harmony in the country today. The Congress is not able to digest this.” Hussain also expressed apprehension on the bill being used against National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states. As current laws were enough to check communal violence, he said priority should be given to legal measures for tackling terrorism.

The sensitive bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2005. It has taken several years for the government to finally act on pushing the bill through the Parliament.  Despite the BJP sparing no measure to attack the Congress, the latter is confident that the party will be able to push the bill through the Parliament.  Describing the bill as “minority appeasement,” the BJP is hopeful of consolidating the support of majority community’s votes. The Congress is sure, according to party leaders, that parties such as Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal together with the Left and Telegu Desam are least likely to side with the BJP on the bill.

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Tension Haunts Hyderabad

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD: With political leaders and parties keen to “exploit” the recent tension in Hyderabad to their advantage, they are playing all possible cards they can. The old city was rocked by tension, following a dispute between two groups over religious flags last month (March 27). Riots broke out, causing loss of three lives and injuring around 150, which led to curfew being imposed on March 29. As the situation became normal, curfew was gradually lifted from the areas rocked by communal violence. Curfew was completely lifted last week (April 10), though prohibitory orders banning assembly of five or more people remained in force.

Investigations being conducted by the police on who was responsible for the communal violence are expected to take another week. On this, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crimes), K. Narsimha Reddy said: “We are thoroughly investigating the matter to know the exact reasons that led to communal unrest. Strict action as per law will be initiated against all those involved in the communal clashes.” 

With more than 180 cases booked in connection with the communal violence, around 250 people have been arrested. Yet, verbal missiles between the rival political parties continue to be hurled at each other. While accepting that communal violence should not have taken place, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah (Congress) claimed that he had “deftly” handled the situation. Following his return from New Delhi after a three-day visit, he claimed that Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi was “extremely happy” with his government’s performance in Andhra Pradesh (AP). Referring specifically to communal tension in Hyderabad, he said: “She has been happy over the deft handling of the situation arising out of communal riots in old city of Hyderabad, though such things should not have happened in the first place” (April 17). Her words, according to him, were: “She told me- You have tactfully handled the situation, I am happy.” She also expressed appreciation on the situation being “normal” now, he said.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not reacted favorably to police rounding up Hindus also for their alleged role in recent communal clashes in Hyderabad. The party organized protest rallies and demonstrations across Andhra Pradesh last week (April 17).  Blaming the police for its “high-handedness” in booking charges against Hindu youths, the BJP activists shouted slogans against the state government and police. They demanded withdrawal of cases against workers of BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The police reacted by taking more than 200 BJP activists into preventive custody. These included the BJP’s AP unit chief, G. Kishan Reddy (Member of Legislative Assembly), general secretary N. Ramchander Rao, former union minister Bandaru Dattatreya and party’s national secretary Dr. K. Laxman.

Several BJP leaders were taken into custody earlier in the month also (April 7), when they tried visiting some riot-hit areas in Old Hyderabad. A five-member team formed by BJP president Nitin Gadkari, included Prakash Javadekar, Shanappa, Prahlad Joshi, Nirmala Sitharaman and Dr. Laxman. The police tried convincing the team, led by Javadekar, not to proceed as prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC were still in force. As the police denied them permission, the BJP members entered into an argument with them. Sitharaman and his party members blamed the state government for acting in a “dictatorial” manner. The BJP activists raised slogans against the police. More than 50 BJP members, including Reddy, were taken into custody. Condemning the police action against BJP’s “fact-finding” team, Reddy was addressing the media.

Though the concerned authorities must be credited for not allowing the recent communal clashes to spread further, questions continue to be raised on their having taken place. Who is to be blamed for planning these clashes, where did the state police and intelligence services fail in preventing them are some of the questions which remain unanswered. These have gained greater importance with tension prevailing on continuance of peace and harmony in sensitive parts of Hyderabad. As the third anniversary of Mecca Masjid blast comes closer, tension is further aggravated by fear on whether it would pass by peacefully.  A blast occurred inside the Mecca Masjid in Old Hyderabad on May 18, 2007, when around 10,000 people were gathered for their Friday prayers. The blast and subsequent police firing led to 14 deaths and more than 50 injured.

Last year, on May 18 at Falaknuma, a Home Guard was killed by a member of an alleged terrorist group.

Though, last year’s incident did not lead to any communal clashes, with the third anniversary of Mecca Masjid blast being preceded by riots, tension prevails among the citizens. Even though police has picked up riot suspects from both the communities (Hindus and Muslims), signaling that it is taking a tough stand against whosoever is a “suspect,” fear continues to haunt the people. Apprehension about situation still not being normal in Hyderabad has hit the state’s tourist industry also. This is indicated by more than 50 percent hotel rooms going unoccupied this March. Situation remains grim, as expressed by Ram Misra, president, Hotels and Restaurant association of AP. He said: “The first quarter is not showing any pick-up at all so far. Normally by now, the bulk bookings are into the system and we know May will be fine. But as of now in April-May, there is nothing happening.”

Till political leaders continue to exploit sensitive issues for their interest, the state’s citizens and also the visitors, including tourists, are bound to remain skeptical about normalcy marked by peace and harmony in Hyderabad.

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India Salutes Comrade Basu’s Memory

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YSR’s Death Raises Questions

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

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Delhi Rocked By Multiple Blasts

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

 

2008-09-14T064742Z_01_DEL211_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-ATTACK

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

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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