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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pakistan Needs To Introspect

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:24 PM

The India-Pakistan schism is getting murkier day by day as war rhetorics on either side of the border continue to gain strength. What compounds this problem is the genuine conviction that the people of both the nations have of their respective stands being correct.

The initial reaction of Pakistani government had been one of disbelief and promise of cooperation, involvement of Pakistani (non-state? ) elements in the Mumbai terror attack had never been ruled out. But before the officials of both the countries could swing into action the mischief-makers did. Pakistani officials later revealed that right after the Mumbai terror attack someone pretending to be Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, had called up Zardari and threatened the Pakistani President with a war. That partly explains the knee-jerk reaction of Zardari and the Pakistan government but the real fallout was the Pakistani media and its civil society's response to their government's attitude. It is likely that their government's reaction to "India's threat" might have left them feeling humilated. That would explain why the Pak media went into an overdrive denying Indian perspective and spawning a string of conspiracy theories. Ironically, it is the Pak civil society represented by its media that had been expected to lead the charge against extremists and militants but what it did instead is play on nationalism and turn on the heat on its government to take tough stand against India.

As per the latest news coming in Pakistan may now be reconciling with the idea that the perpatrators might indeed be from its own territory and agencies but the leadership is unlikely to soften down a bit and co-operate with India. The demand for "credible evidence" by Pakistan and the Indian authorities' hesitation to share them is likely to keep the rumor-mill in Pakistan busy, India fuming and the perpetrators going farther away from the law.

From the Indian perspective it is a very tricky situation since there is no third-party authority to establish the credibility of evidence. Pakistan has already disowned Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist even if a Pakistani news channel had already proved it through a sting operation. Indeed, if the Pakistani authorities so desire they can remove every piece of evidence and claim that Pervez Musharraf did not belong to Pakistan either! This may sound like a joke, which it is, but technically it is quite possible. In such a scenario it is very natural for India to hesitate sharing evidence with Pakistan which can be discredited by the latter. Let us not forget that whoever planned the whole thing had also planned to make it look like handiwork of a local Indian group from Hyderabad. It is quite likely that a lot of "evidence" might have been liberally "dropped" to mislead investigators. Perhaps the only thing that did not go according to the plan was the capture of one of the attackers. This convinces Indian authorities that the plot was hatched in Pakistan but at the same time this piece of evidence might not be deemed enough to convince Pakistan to act unless it itself wants to.

Nawaz Sharif may have now retracted from his statement but at that point of time he was being quite logical and reasonable by asking the Pakistani establishment and society to introspect. Instead of asking India for evidence to prove its national's role in the Mumbai terror attack what Pakistan shpuld do is ask itself if it is really difficult to believe that the militants who are attacking Pakistani cities (Marriott attack) on a regular basis would refrain from attacking Indian cities as well when given a chance? In fact, they also need to ask themselves if groups like L-e-T and J-e-M and their activists exist in Pakistan and if they do, what is their ideology, objectives and the means to achieve that objective. Once Pakistan has reconciled itself with these facts it would not need to look at India for evidence, Pakistan already has plethora of information that could be treated as evidence once the administration is ready to accept facts. Interestingly, a similar situation had been unfolding in India some years back when Indian Muslims were in the denial mode, it may have come as a shock but things changed after the acceptance. Currently, thousands of Indian Muslim clergies have through fatwas, sermons and the media condemned Islamic radicals for terrorism,calling it anti-Islamic. In fact, for the past few years there were indications of Hindu fundamentalists resorting to terror tactics but the fact was brought to light by the administration itself however belatedly. By living in denial, Pakistan is not only being unfair to India, it is also putting its future in great peril.

Posted By danish Ahmed 12:24 PM

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Fourth Estate of India

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:23 AM

ANGRY.
Thats the one word that sums up the prevailing mood across India in the aftermath of the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai. Terror attacks have evoked similar sentiments in the past but every time the emotion have died out in a very short period of time, especially after the political parties and the media are done extracting the mojo from it. But the sentiment this time is far more vehement than it has ever been which is quite understandable considering the magnitude of the attack both in terms of devastation as well as audacity. Talk to the common person on the street, 9.9 out of 10 people would hold politicians responsible for the attack on the nation’s sovereignty, and it is not just the politicians in the government that are being blamed, the people have been quite emphatic in holding the entire class of politicians as responsible. This sentiment is quite understandable when we see politicians squabbling among themselves for a share of the pie bought from the hard earned money of the tax-payer. What is worse is the fact that even after coveting the people’s property, politicians do not seem to realize that they have certain duties towards the very people whose money they are squandering away.

The recent terror attacks in Mumbai has actually catalyzed the situation so that the debate now goes beyond this dastardly act to the various commissions and omissions of the ruling class all along at the expense of the welfare and security of the nation. Martyrdom of the Mumbai terror attack like Hemant Karkare, Sandeep Unnikrishanan and others who in many ways represented the middle class Indians served as rude reminders of the fact that unless the common people take the charge, their basic security was at risk.

As the world continues to condense into a thoroughly connected global village, intellectuals, the tax-paying middle class, the students and even journalists have found on the Web and the TV, ways to express their anguish and call for a change. Social software tools like blogs, microblogs, syndicated content, forwarded emails etc and mobile penetration have provided not only a platform to participate in the social and political processes, voice their opinions but also form communities with like minded individuals. This is the Fourth Estate of the Indian state, the child of the information revolution, powered by information and communication technology of the 21st century.
This section of people is more dependable and least susceptible to corruption (in any form) simply because there are no personal gains or losses for them. No wonder, political that "lip-stick wearing, coat tie wearing" Indians should be entitled to political opinions. Naqvi may have belled the cat but he represents the deep-seated resentment that a lot of politicians across party lines have towards educated middle class Indians taking interest in politics. What more evidence do we need? Is it a coincidence that a Leftist CM of Kerala and National Vice President of the BJP, a Rightist, were speaking on the similar lines on the same day? In the past, we have seen all political parties bury differences and come when the question involves a raise or a decrement in salary and other perks granted to elected representatives. Even yesterday i.e. 03/11/08, when asked (by TimesNOW) why such a significant portion of the nation's security asset including the NSG commandos were being deployed for personal security of political leader who apparently had no serious threat to life, politicians from all parties were found to be defending the decision unanimously. Yet, a couple of minutes later, Arnab Goswami of TimesNow was left begging for a consensus between political parties (the Cong and the BJP) on how to deal with this latest terror attack.
There has been at least one positive outcome from this tragedy and that is the galvanizing effect it had on the people, rousing them from slumber and forcing them to stand up and take initiative. Turn on the TV and you could be witnessing a watershed moment, this attack can be taken as a wake up call to rouse a nation from its self-induced slumber.
Prasoon Joshi's poetry, "Is Baar Nahi", TimesNOW's slogan "Action not words", rallies in Mumbai and the chatter across nooks and corners of India indicate the growing assertiveness of a section of Indians. The Fourth Estate of India.



Prasoon Joshi's poem reflecting the sentiment of the aam Indian post Mumbai terror attacks.

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:23 AM

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Nightmare : India's 9/11

Posted by: danish Ahmed 11:57 PM

Let me be honest, i am at loss of words in response to the latest terror attacks in Mumbai. It has been dubbed as India's 9/11 and for once i am willing to accept the cliché. For the first time i understand how an average American would have felt on that Tuesday in 2001. In my earlier posts, i have tried to present my opinion in a dispassionate and unbiased manner, but this post is different, this one is personal, unfiltered thoughts of an average Indian that i am. As a blogger and an information junky i may have taken this a bit more personally than others but I’m sure every Indian, irrespective of all affiliations and allegiances, has, in at least some degree been hurt by this horrific act. Terror attacks in India are not new but the manner and magnitude of this attack is unprecedented. A handful of terrorists with meticulous planning and diabolic designs turned Mumbai into an urban battle-field and sent shockwaves throughout India and the world.
If an act of terrorism is carried out to inflict psychological damage, the live coverage of the entire episode by the visual media completed it. "Media is the right arm of anarchy", Dan Brown wrote and sadly enough the greater damage that the perpetrators inflicted, was through the media only. Well, i do not blame the media at all; it was doing what it is supposed to do as am i doing right now. (Some Hindi channels do not qualify as news channels) The unfortunate part is that sociopaths have always used the strength of the civil society against the society itself (similar to Japanese martial art aikido ,but far too evil). In this instance as well as in the previous ones, the terrorists have exploited our democratic principles, civil rights and the free press to attack us.

There is nothing chivalrous or brave or clever about it, it cannot be graded within civilized world's percepts of good and bad, it is pure evil, manifesting itself in creatures bereft of every human trait. Civilized society is based upon the assumption that people desire to live in peace and prosperity and are willing to abide by the rules for mutual benefit. Some people might transgress for selfish reasons or may want to change the system but they will not go to the extreme which threatens the very existence of the society. This self-restraint may arise out of "goodness of heart" in few cases but in the majority of cases, it is out of the instinct of self-preservation. Power, wealth, success and everything that a civilized person (however wicked) aspires for, loses meaning without society. Hence, when anarchists like these terrorists subvert our civility and use them against us they descend into the lowest level of human consciousness. In contrast, heroes like Hemant Karkare, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan,Vijay Salaskar, DCP Kamte and all the martyrs who gave up their lives trying to protect the lives of innocent people displayed the highest form of valor and bravery.

India has never reacted to terror attacks with the same sort of disdain for liberty and civil rights that some other nations have and a lot of people tend to take it as its weakness. What is more painful is the fact that many Indians too hold a similar view. What they forget is that being the land of Buddha, Mahavira, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, the doctrine of "non-violence as dharma" is so deeply ingrained in our ethos that "an eye for an eye" sort of attitude simply does not gel with rest of our value system. However, the doctrine of non-violence as propagated by Gandhi does not represent, as some people believe, cowardice or submission to force, rather it stands for fierce opposition to tyranny and injustice but without using violence. It is the noblest form of warfare but warfare nonetheless. Gandhi himself has said that if a person is incapable of fighting tyranny with non-violence, he would have them use violence rather than suffer injustice. A similar situation is emerging now and the people of India, the victims of this dastardly act, are hurt and angry at the audacity of the perpetrators and need assurances that our civility and sense of justice should not prove detrimental to our security.

The battle in Mumbai is over but the war has just begun a war which has many fronts and a war in which it is the citizens who will take the lead. The first step, which has already begun is to send the message to all politicians that they stop petty politics and work towards the security and betterment of the nation. When Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s father was showing Kerala CM the way out, he was acting out the sentiment which finds resonance in almost all Indians, that, politicians are not interested in our personal griefs or national security. It is really alarming that a Leftist like Achuthanand and a Rightist like BJP VP, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, have both, on the same day, criticized civil society’s attempt to stop the issue from getting politicized. Their disappointment at being denied the golden opportunity to extract political mileage is understandable but what politicians of all hues need to understand is that one can’t fool all the people, all the time. This time things have gone beyond imagination and all political parties should sit down together and work out a strategy to bring the guilty to book and prevent similar attacks in future. Lets not forget that Hemant Karkare's wife in returning the Rs 1 crore "compensation" to Modi has set the highest moral standard that every Indian should at least try to live up to.

Posted By danish Ahmed 11:57 PM

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saffron Terror

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:54 AM

The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way it is going back in. The Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad has revealed what everyone has known all along, that some of the blasts in recent times are the handiworks of saffron outfits. Terrorism has always been a touchy issue, its perception varies from people to people. One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. But then that is true mostly in the context of secessionist movements and insurgencies, anarchist and psychopaths from within the society attacking civilians cannot be percieved of in any way as anything lesser than fiends. So does that imply that far-right groups like the Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagran Manch should be declared terrorist groups and banned?

I am not really sure what the reaction of the Sangh Parivar is. Most likely it is going to disassociate itself from the perpetrators or just deny the whole thing by accusing of political controversy. Interestingly, few years back, when there were clear signals of Jihadi terrorism gaining inroads into a section of the Indian Muslim population, Muslim leaders displayed similar attitude of self-denial until it was too late to control the damage.Coming back to saffron outfits some people are likely to see them as anti-terror forces, that is more or less how ex Maharashtra CM Manohar Joshi defended the perpetrators, calling it a reaction to terror attacks. This is the sort of reaction that stems from a greatly misplaced sense of loyalty and nationalism. If these terror charges are not dropped before they get permanently etched in public memory we may see a barrage of apologetics swamping the media. It should be remembered that Narendra Modi had justified the massacre of Muslims by calling it a reaction to Godhra train carnage. The ongoing attack on Christians in Orissa has also been justified on similar grounds.

A planned attack on innocent citizens of any hue should be seen as an attack on the nation as whole. If Kashmiri militants, Naxalites and other terror groups can be said to be following sub-nationalist agenda, saffron outfits like VHP and Bajrang Dal cannot be termed as nationalists as the BJP would have us believe. Hindu nationalism is as much a sub-nationalist cause as was the Khalistan movement or the Kashmiri secessionism. Add violence to it, and it becomes a highly explosive cocktail. The fact that the activists belong to the majority community is alarming and dangerous. There is always a great probability of the law enforcement agencies turning partisan as was seen in Gujarat and more recently in Orissa. Besides, strict anti-terror laws are often exploited to incarcerate ordinary Muslims while anti-nationals like Raj Thackeray are released on bail that very day.The Sangh Parivar refuses to accept the fact that outfits like VHP and Bajrang Dal can be termed anti-nationals. It better explain what term should be given to a group that kills,rapes and destroys Churches and homes of fellow citizens following a different religion. And it doesn't end there, the displaced people living in refugee camps are further terrorized by bombings in the vicinity and even by poisoning drinking water.

However, it is not the BJP alone, the Congress has all along been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Even now, it was unwilling to come out with the truth when saffronites had been found involved in bomb blasts in Nanded and Kanpur. With election round the corner and a climate of gloom because of the economic disaster, the Congress was, in a manner, forced to come out with the truth to consolidate its voter base. It is unlikely that the government would ban these saffron outfits but the civil society should grab the oppurtunity to send the Sangh Parivar a message that it should take corrective measures instead of living in denial.

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:54 AM

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Do we need stringent anti-terror laws to fight terrorism ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 7:44 PM

Serial bomb blasts in Delhi have left the nation shocked, betrayed and angry coming on the heels of similar attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. The reaction from all quarters is as predictable as it could be. Everyone except the perpetrators have condemned the attack, the government has appealed for calm and has vowed to bring the guilty to book, citizens are outraged at how unsafe they are under the government's watch, BJP the main opposition party says its charges against the current government of being soft on terrorism stands vindicated and it reiterates its demand for stringent anti-terror laws. The media is having a field day reporting facts, speculations, opinions, counter-opinions and more importantly the visuals. Everything is going according to the plan. The plan, that the perpetrators might have had when they conceived this inhuman ploy. All major cities have now been put on high-alert, the common people feel unsafe, normal life has been disrupted and the spokespersons of the government and the main opposition hurl charges at each other on the national TV. If the objective of terrorism is to destabilize society by creating panic and distrust among the members then the terrorists have most likely achieved their objective in this instance. In a few days from now when the nation limps back to life, some terrorists will strike again sending us into yet another phase of fear, panic, anger, charges and counter-charges. This cycle of mindless violence has been going on now for a while and there seems to be no reason to believe that it is going to be stopped anytime soon.


What fuels my pessimism is the belief that no one is really interested in stopping these attacks. Whether they want it or not, political parties and the media stand to gain from these attacks, it is citizen who loses but even then there is little display of fighting spirit in the citizenry. Demand for stringent anti-terror laws reflects the citizenry's desire for retribution rather than finding a long lasting solution.In one of my earlier post on "Open Source Terrorism" i have discussed on the changing pattern of terror attacks in India which indicate that local terror modules may be emulating global terrorist networks based on a violent and distorted form of Islamic ideology. These groups are different from traditional militant groups we have come across in Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East that have a fixed and coherent agenda. The 4GW groups on the other hand are loosely affiliated global terrorist network that wants to overthrow the world order. This enemy is far more dangerous because the only agenda it has is destruction of the civil society by introducing chaos and distrust.It uses the society's greatest strength against society itself, which in our case is freedom and civil rights. How do we fight an enemy who emerges from amongst us and blends back into the society after executing his evil design? Do we abandon our cherished values, suspend rights and turn ourselves into a police state? What then will the difference be between the terrorist groups and civil society?


This moral dilemma is also the central theme of recently released and hugely popular movie, “the Dark Knight". The central character in plot is not the Batman himself but the anarchist, psychopath villain called the Joker. The Joker personifies absolute evil, he exists without a name, without a past and more importantly he operates without any logical motive. Unlike other villains, the Joker is not motivated by the lust of money or power, he is an agent of chaos and he seems to be on a mission to prove that all people turn to evil when pushed hard. The battle between him and the Batman is a battle of wills, the Joker constantly creates situations that leave Batman in ethical dilemma, he challenges Batman to defeat evil without becoming a part of it. And it is not the Batman alone who is tested, towards the end the Joker recreates a grotesque enactment of the "prisoner's dilemma" which results in a situation where a ferry full of citizens and another carrying convicts have to destroy each other to prevent the Joker from destroying them. If either of them succumb to his threat and blow up their fellow humans they become evil themselves justifying the Joker's philosophy of anarchy and hate. The people in the two ferries do not succumb to the Joker's plan but the district attorney, Harvey Dent does. Dent is the face of Gotham's civil society fighting crime without sacrificing civility. The greatest victory of the Joker is the conversion of Dent, the white knight of Gotham into a dark vigilante who kills criminals for revenge. From the ethical point of view there is hardly any difference between the Joker and Dent (who becomes Two-Face).


We face a similar situation while dealing with anarchist terrorists who like the Joker, provoke us to shed our civility, violate social contract and come down to their level. Inherent weakness in our law, especially the criminal law is almost an article of faith for most ordinary Indians. It is this belief that always leads to cries for measures that are harsher even if they are not just. An important element of criminal jurisprudence of all progressive civil societies is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty which implies that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. In anti-terror laws like POTA the principle applied is the presumption of guilt which implies that the person charged has to produce evidence of his/her innocence. Frankly, i think it defies logic.The very concept of Law exists for the administration of justice but in some instances criminal laws are used to extract revenge and gain political mileage. The BJP has been vociferously criticizing the government for its soft approach but as all of us know it is just trying to fish in troubled water. Let us not forget the fact that it was during the NDA reign that two of the biggest terror attacks took place (Parliament attack and IC-814 hijack) and the then BJP government had proved itself as toothless as it is accusing the Congress now. In the IC-814 hijack episode the BJP Foreign Minister escorted some of the most dreaded terrorists to Kandhar. However, the predicament that the NDA government faced then is understandable, civil society and state have certain responsibilities towards citizens which puts it in disadvantage during negotiations in hostage crisis like this one. But if the BJP itself has in the past given in to terrorists' demands in order to protect citizens and their rights why would it now insist imposing restriction on rights of citizens in the name of fighting terrorism?


The answer is pretty simple; the latest episode gives the opposition a stick to beat the Congress government with. Besides that the brand of politics that the BJP practices, not only exploits fear and anger of the people but also reinforces them. The Sangh Parivar has nearly perfected the art of transforming the discontentment of people to hatred towards other communities and in the process consolidating its own voter base. The BJP has in the past managed to counter the anger of the people (mostly belonging to majority community) by not pursuing the perpetrators but punishing their community members. The message sent out to its supporters is that the government is fighting terrorism but in reality it is punishing a section of its own citizenry to placate the anger of the majority. Incarceration of innocent people under POTA by the Modi government in Gujarat in 2002 is a well-known example of how anti-terror laws are exploited by governments pursuing their antagonistic and communal agenda. Presently, the very fact that the demand for stringent anti-terror is being led by Modi, indicates that the objective is to take revenge by punishing the community members of the alleged terrorists and not go after the culprits themselves. Any doubt regarding fairness in implementation of these laws is removed when we look into recent past. As far as i know none of the key suspects of previous attacks have been arrested yet but hundreds of innocent citizens were incarcerated with the help of these draconian laws. Further, activists of groups like Bajrang Dal have always indulged in activities which clearly come under the purview of anti-terror laws but far from being held under anti-terror laws they actually enjoy state patronage.


Apart from the moral and the political question, introduction of harsher laws would also raise questions regarding the efficiency of such measures. For instance, this demand would imply that there have been instances when perpetrators major terrorist attacks have been let free because of technical loop holes. But as far as my memory serves me most of the attackers and conspirators are either absconding or had died during the attacks. In instances when they have been caught appropriate punishments have been awarded to them. If terrorists have not been apprehended or appropriately punished then it is mostly because the police were not up to the task and not because of lenient laws.

Stricter laws also imply investing more power in law enforcement agencies which raises the probability of it being abused by corrupt policemen and their political masters. This will not be a new trend in India, for decades law enforcement agencies are notorious for abusing laws for selfish reasons. I do not fully comprehend why law-makers want to grant the police provision to use more brute force when one of the problems of our civil society is the excessive use of brute force by the police. If at all the law-makers want to make law enforcement more effective, they should allocate more resources and funds to the force to increase its efficiency.


To eliminate the malaise of terrorism the first step would be to launch a political initiative that addresses grievances at the grass-root level. Citizen need to come forward and shun all forms of parochial and divisive doctrines, be it communalism, regionalism or casteism. The primary loyalty of all sections of the population should lie with the national identity. Stringent anti-terror laws are not mantras the incantations of which will drive away terrorism magically; it is the law enforcement machinery that needs to be well-oiled and upgraded. Arrests of some of the perpetrators of Delhi serial blasts reinforces the belief that existing laws are sufficient to counter terrorism as long as the administration doesn't lack the will to fight. It also reveals that the attackers are mostly anarchists whose objective is to damage the social fabric and provoke us into abandoning our value system. Instead of reacting with anger, we should find out ways to detect and eliminate anarchists from our midst without shedding our civility.


We can't let the Joker have the last laugh!

Posted By danish Ahmed 7:44 PM

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Religious Fundamentalism, Fanaticism And Communalism. Are They Syonymous ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:47 AM

This Sunday's newspaper carries views and opinions of some noted journalists and intellectuals on the orgies of violence and bloodshed carried out in the name of religion in the state of Orissa. I feel that in the process, terms like religion, religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and communalism have been used too loosely, and in some instances, almost interchangeably. For the section of citizenry that keeps distance from politics and social processes and takes a free ride in the Juggernaut of democracy and free society these terms and concepts might sound similar. But for the informed individual the difference between these terms are as great as the two ends of a spectrum. It would therefore be prudent to define these terms in their original connotation and in consonance with the political philosophy around which our society is built.

Religion And Secularism in India

The Constitution of India declares the nation as a secular entity but unlike the concept of secularism followed in countries like France and Turkey, Indian secularism believes in the tolerance of all religions. The term secularism implies the absence of any divine element or aspect. But for a nation that has Mahatma Gandhi as its ideologue, religion cannot be divorced from politics and the society. It is not just that Gandhi prayed a lot, his principles of non-violence and truth had seeds in religious philosophy. However, for Gandhi there were two forms of religion. The first form consisted of a set of principles and a code of ethics that all major religions propagated. For instance, theft, murder etc are wrong and punishable by all religions. The other form of religion is the approach and rituals which varies from group to group. Many secular countries, especially those of Europe treat the universal code of ethic as secular progressive thought but Gandhi and his contemporary leaders of India redefined secularism not as a godless concept but as a concept that gives space to all religions. Religion in India was to play a unifying role as well as help individuals evolve spiritually unlike the role it was to play in Pakistan.

Religious Fundamentalism And Fanaticism

Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are again terms that need to be astutely defined. If fundamentalism means adhering to the fundamentals of a religious doctrine then even Gandhi was a fundamentalist as he was a strict vegetarian and performed ritualistic worship every day. In that sense fundamentalism is rather desirable since the fundamentals of all major religions require adherents to conform to the principles of peaceful co-existence and perform acts for spiritual evolution.

Fanaticism on the other hand is dedication to fundamentals with such devotion and so devoid of reason that the followers end up overdoing or even doing the opposite of what the fundamentals required. Muslims in India imitating Arabic culture (even those unrelated to Islam) is an example of harmless fanaticism. More serious fanaticism is manifested in instances where scientific facts are discarded in preference to superstitions and myths or where religious decrees (usually in matters of personal laws ) are passed which are found to be contradictory to the law of the land as well as to religious laws (it is found in both Muslim and Hindu communities)

Communalism

Communalism is a concept which has least to do with religion although it almost always uses religion to manifest itself. Broadly defining, communalism is identifying one's own aspirations and fear (especially socio-political-economic) with the aspirations and fears of one's own community rather than society as a whole. However, in the context of the Indian subcontinent the term communalism denotes an organization/mobilization of like-minded but aggressive, intolerant and nearly violent group of individuals against other sections of society. Communalism plays a major role in the subcontinent as it is home to numerous religious, linguistic and ethnic groups, jostling for place in political mainstream, often with antagonism for those belonging to the "other community" which is held responsible for past violations as well as nefarious designs for the future. A very disturbing aspect of communalism is the fact that primary loyalty is shown towards the group that has the highest degree of commonality not on the basis of conscious and deliberate actions, belief and other elements of social contract but accidental factors like membership of religious, linguistic or ethnic community. Religious fanaticism is often result of convoluted logic but there is no logic in communalism because reasoning and rationalism are concepts alien to it.

It took mankind thousands of years to evolve into civil society based on rationalism, reason and even faith but it takes one moment of hatred to takes us back to the prehistoric times when our ancestors battled for survival. In fact, underneath our sophisticated and civilized demeanor many of us remain the same primitive hunters, fighters, warring for survival in a hostile world. Apart from other wild animals and furious nature herself we also have to fight against fellow humans from the "other clan/tribe" who are constantly conspiring to attack us and steal our food, women and our children. To protect our own possessions and interests we would have to attack first and incapaciate the enemy or, at the least, be prepared for retaliation in case of an attack on us. It is this primitive "herd mentality" of distrust and hatred that drives the force of communalism in the civil society.

As opposed to prehistory, this trend in modern society has always been driven by a few individuals who exploit it to acquire leadership of their respective communities. From blatantly provocative orations and sloganeering to indoctrination at the grass root level, all efforts to create an atmosphere of fear, distrust, mass hysteria and self-righteous rage are often found to be politically motivated and hollow. India has had the misfortune of being turned into a laboratory of such violent and divisive political experiments more than once. The first one led to the partition of the nation and a bloodbath that left an indelible scar in the national psyche of all three nations. The Muslim League's experiment was later emulated by Hindu communalists even if faith based antagonism was incompatible with the Hindu ethos. Hindu communalism actually predates its Muslim counterpart but it could never command the same level of popularity as the latter did. Hindu communalism reached its climax in the late 80's and early 90's riding on the wave of Hindutva ideology centered around Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi issue. The Sangh Parivar led by the lesser radical BJP waged an all out war on the existing political arrangement , evoking sub-nationalist emotion of a people already dismayed by years of congress misrule.

Communalists always view civilization as a perpetual war between communities and rewrite history portraying their own community of being historically wronged. It painted the Muslim rule of India as one of intolerance, subjugation and systematic persecution of the majority community although historical evidences reveal a completely different picture (will talk on that in some other post). In post-independence politics, it portrayed the Muslims as the "pariah" group with whose support the corrupt and inefficient Congress remained in power and the group that was in one way or the other responsible for all ills of the Indian society. It accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims for vote-bank politics and it accused Muslims of keeping a corrupt and inefficient Congress in power for selfish ends. It never explained how a community constituting less than 15% of the population could be held responsible for hijacking the government's agenda. Equally intriguing was the charge of appeasement when Sachar Commission reported that post-independence, while other under-privileged sections had seen some upliftment the Muslims had in fact become poorer and more backward. Shouldn't the pampered minority constitute the creamy layer of the society like the Jews of Al-Andulas or to cite a contemporary analogy, the Jews of the US ?

But more than indoctrination or misinformation campaigns it is the remnants of the tribal mentality in us that fans communalism. For a long time I used to call this gorilla mentality but lately i have been wondering if it would be judicious to attribute a human vice to beasts! That very Sunday i came across another news item of a baby elephant having fallen into a pit 2 kms from a village in the Simlipal region of Orissa. The adult elephants did not allow forest guards to get close enough to attempt rescue operation. Instead the elephants summoned their comrades from the jungle and formed a large chain to pull out the baby. Had the elephant belonged to communalist organizations like VHP,SIMI or Bajrang Dal they would have left the baby there and would have gone and attacked the village instead !

As i said before, communalism in modern civil society is irrational and always based on misinformation because of which the movement loses its mojo after reaching a certain level. The two communal experiments carried out in India have both failed but not before causing irreparable damage to India's social fabric. The Muslim League's experiment resulted in Pakistan, a failed state wholly dependent on its American masters for existence. The BJP was successful initially but it could never garner enough support to form government on its own. Coalition dharma forced it to shed its communal agenda but that doesn't stop it from conducting experiments in certain parts of the country. One such experiment is underway in Orissa where the concepts of religion, religious fanaticism and communalism are being used to deceive the people.

Posted By danish Ahmed 12:47 AM

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Orissa turning into a lab of hate and divisive politics

Posted by: danish Ahmed 11:53 PM

The ongoing violence in Kandhmal is a direct consequence of the government’s reluctance to deal with the deepening fissures between the communities in this remote region. This regions as well as other tribal regions in the state have seen a steady increase in number of tribal converting to Christianity. This is absolutely unacceptable to Hindu right wing parties who accuse Christian missionaries of fraudulently stealing the souls of "our adivasis". The right to worship and propagate one's religion is one of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution of India but strangely enough in this corner of the earth religious conversions are looked down upon not just by religious fanatics but by the common people too. For a state that converted the haughty Asoka into a Buddhist and was home to one of the largest Jaina states ever, a new wave of religious conservatism seems to be taking over.In fact, Orissa was the first Indian state to pass anti-conversion laws.

Actually for the Hindu fundamentalists, religious conversions being carried on by Christian missionaries are seen as part of a greater design to change the demography of the state in the same manner as was done in some north-eastern states. Paranoia is a chronic ailment that most Sangh Parivar activists suffer from but in this episode their delusion is not absolute. Christian missionaries in many instances have been found to have adopted some unconventional methods to gain converts. While missionaries of every proselytizing religion appeal to reason and try to prove the divine nature, truth quotient or rationalism of their doctrine, Christian missionaries in Orissa are accused of proselytizing illiterate tribal by promising material benefit. I am not sure why I should be infuriated with some of the most backward tribal getting free education and healthcare in lieu of their belief. If we are not able uplift our own people in any way, why should we object to others doing it even if its a Judas' bargain. But Christian missionaries have also been accused of frauds and use cheap tricks to gain converts. I myself have at least once been victim of an over-enthusiastic group of missionaries who tried to impress me with sleight of hand. I was really outraged that these guys really believed that I would be unable differentiate between street magic and divine miracle! They in turn were outraged that I was more interested in Christian ideology that they did not know much about. Having experienced that myself I am disinclined to rubbish all allegations leveled by the saffron brigade.

However, this does not mean that I have the right to prevent anyone from propagating her/his religion. If I really want to stop conversions I need to go and work among the tribal and convince them of the superiority of my ideology. This is what Swami Lakhananda Saraswati had been doing and the reason for which he was gunned down. What followed was nothing short of mayhem among the mob as well as the media and the administration. The initial media reports quoting the police said that Maoist groups were responsible and a Naxalite group had in fact claimed responsibility for the attack. This was quickly dismissed by VHP leaders who wanted the government to blame Christian groups for the attack. The BJD-BJP government has all along displayed its reluctance to take on the rightists head on and risk the government's survival. When the VHP called for a state-wide bandh, the state government instead of ensuring security ordered closure of all educational institutions sending out the message that it was unwilling to protect citizens who were dared to disobey the dictates of the far-right VHP. Private parties like Infosys too followed suit and a bandh call by a rogue party turned out to be the most successful strike the state had ever witnessed.

Social activists visiting the state after the last December violence had warned that the Gujarat experiment was being emulated in the state and genocide was in the making. Initially I was a bit skeptical but as things unfold, those ominous forebodings are beginning to resemble the reality. The Kandhmal region has a history of ethnic strife between the “adivasis” and the “Panos”( a scheduled caste member). While the tribal, who were originally animistic, have now been included in the Hindu mainstream, the “Panos” of the region have adopted Christianity in large numbers. Thus, a communal angle was added to an already chronic ethnic schism. All political parties like to fish in troubled waters but the Sangh Parivar simply loves to come across this sort of situation. In this case since the BJP was a ruling coalition partner, there was little or no opposition to the Sangh Parivar’s programme to turn Orissa into a laboratory of hate and divisive politics, the experiment in Gujarat was now being repeated in Orissa’s tribal regions.

As the government looked the other way the Sangh Parivar activists began to build their base by exploiting the decades old Kandh tribal versus the dalit Panos schism. The fact that majority of the Panos had converted to Christianity helped the mischief-makers give the conflict a communal tinge. The simmering tension was out in the open last Christmas, when the Saffronites went on rampage destroying more than 100 churches and institutions and scores of innocent people were killed or rendered homeless. In the aftermath too, the government did little to ensure the safety of the minority community or to reconcile the warring communities. Instead the VHP and Bajrang Dal were allowed to carry on their campaign of hate and violence in the garb of religion. Now and then, there had been minor flare ups indicating what’s in store for the future but the government was absolutely disinclined to act against the Hindu hardliners.

Swami Lakhananda Saraswati’s murder and the bandh that followed materialized the fears of the Christian leaders. The Sangh activists went on a rampage burning churches, institutions and homes of the local Christians. The early report that blamed Maoists for the dastardly crime had simply disappeared as the intellectuals too began to question why Naxalites would target Swamiji. This apparently rational question discredited the Maoist angle completely; even as the top cops went on record with it. Indeed, what enmity would a Far Left militant group have with the leader of a Far Right group? Ideologically, both the groups stand on the opposite sides of the pole. The Maoists strive for a classless society whereas the Hindutva brigade espouses an ideology that includes caste-based stratifications. Besides these there are many more arguments to prove that Maoists and Sangh activists are ideologically opposed to each other more than any other organizations in the country.

Further, the Maoists have heavy presence in the region and are said to be close to the Christian groups which is quite understandable from the fact that Christians of the region constitute a majority of the district committee of the Maoists. The possibility of Maoist involvement in the killing should be examined in the light of evidences and not buried in the name of reason. If the initial media report about Naxalite involvement was incorrect, the police and the administration should refute it officially instead of shoving it out of theirs as well as the public's memory. Because of the ineffiency of the government in first protecting the life of the Swami and then being ambiguous about the identity of the perpetrators, it has aggravated the situation in the state.

This spate of violence has been unprecedented in the state, starting from Kandhmal it spilled over to other parts, churches, institutions, homes, vehicles, and even orphanages were not spared by the marauding mobs. The destruction to both property and lives of people belonging to both the communities is massive; peace is yet to return as more dead bodies as being recovered in the jungles. The violence has left a major emotional scar in the psyche of the surviving victims. People who had fled to the jungle to escape the mob are still too fearful to return home. The worst part is that the social fabric has been damaged irreparably which suggests that this pogrom could be premeditated. The sustained campaign of the VHP and Bajrang Dal in the region further corroborates this charge. If the attacks by the Sangh activists appear to have been planned ahead of time, the retaliation by Christian groups too cannot be termed as spontaneous. The use of firearms and bombs by both the groups reveals that both the sides, especially the Christian groups might have been prepared to defend themselves since the state government had not been able to protect them during the Christmas violence. If things have indeed gone to such an extreme, it is high time, the government wake up and take the responsibility of restoring normalcy and more importantly restore the victim’s faith in the secular civil society that it represents.

Orissa CM Navin Patnaik has in the past taken brave decisions based on the party ideology and without giving much thought to political repercussions, so his reluctance to rein in the marauding Sangh activists is a little intriguing. Agreed, any stern action against the rioters belonging to the rightist party could compel the BJP to walk out of the coalition effectively bringing down the government in the process but Navin Patnaik should understand that by playing into the hands of the Saffron parties he might end up eroding his own support base. At the moment, his party is the senior coalition partner and does not need the BJP as much as it needs him. But as the radicalization of the voter base continues, the Sangh Parivar’s support base would increase at the cost of BJD’s own voters’ base.

Posted By danish Ahmed 11:53 PM

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Combating Open Source Terrorism

Posted by: danish Ahmed 2:00 AM

Serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad point to a new pattern of terror attacks that seem to me similar to the Open Source Warfare model that defense analyst John Robb propounds in his blog. Robb says that the Al Qaeda and terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Iraq are adapting to the Open Source Software development model to overcome enemy that they cannot defeat using conventional warfare techniques.

What is Open Source Software model?

The best place to look for definition of Open Source model is Eric Stallman's, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar." In the essay, Stallman compares the conventional software methodology as a centralized approach in which software are built “like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation...."

In contrast, development of Linux in "a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches..." reveals that in a lot of situations the latter model was more productive. The strength of the Bazaar model can be enumerated as self-motivation, collaborative development, information sharing, innovation and frequency of releases. All most all of these are concepts that can be adapted in circumstances unrelated to software development and according to Robb the bazaar dynamics are being adapted by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda involved in the Fourth Generation Warfare. These groups can be described as a global but decentralized network of highly motivated individuals subscribing to a violent ideology and carrying out attacks on a global scale.


Coming back to the topic,
India is not exactly a stranger to terror attacks. For decades now India has been facing terrorist attacks but they had always been part of the proxy wars that hostile neighbors were waging on it with the help of secessionists/insurgents. Despite all claims and allegations there is little evidence to suggest that the recent attacks are linked to global terrorism. A scarier but more realistic assumption indicates that the bazaar dynamics of the Open Source model of groups like Al Qaida may have been picked up by disgruntled elements in the local population. Last few attacks have certain elements which not only discern it from other attacks but also link it to Fourth Generation Warfare and the open source model

‘Fourth Generation Warfare’ is a concept defined in 1989 by a group of American analysts including William S. Lind and John Boyd, to describe warfare’s return to decentralized form or to a form where one of the forces in the conflict is a not a nation-state but a rather violent ideological network. The 1989 paper by Lind and team can be viewed here .[ 4GW definition in Wikipedia ]

It is quite likely that as opposed to the past the recent attacks have all been carried out by locals without active help of external agencies. While radical Islamic ideology such as the one propagated by the Al Qaida may have a role, the perpetrators of these crimes are most likely to be anarchists out to destabilize the society they don't agree with.
John Robb identifies the following characteristics of the "bazaar of violence"

  • Leveraged attacks - Attacks that have huge impact in contrast to the scale of the operation.
  • Swarms vs single group activity- Many small attacks that in aggregate have an impact equal to several large attacks.
  • Rapid innovation- Adapt quickly to any situation and use existing tools and resources for maximum gain.

Every one of these "bazaar dynamics" can be found in the latest terror attacks in India. Post-9/11 it has been found that terrorist groups are reorganizing themselves into optimally sized, compact and decentralized networks, there is no visible connection between these modules. The only link that these modules have with other terror modules is that of sharing the same ideology. In all recent attacks in India the investigating agencies have been quick to point finger at SIMI and HUJI but as of yet they have not been able to bring the guilty to book or produce any substantial evidence. This failure of the police can be explained more effectively by analyzing the "bazaar dynamics" and the concept of 4GW. In all recent attacks the materials used in the operation are all readily available and can be procured from local markets and without even drawing undue attention. If a terror module intends to use high power explosives like RDX, it would require logistic support from across the border and in doing so it might leave a trail behind that the investigating agencies can pick up and track down the individuals and organization responsible for the attack.

But bicycles, gelatin sticks, clocks, sulphur and ammonium nitrate are all materials that are easily available and with a little innovation can be transformed into deadly tools of destruction if the wielder is determined to. In fact the destructive power of such weapons increases manifold when used in collaboration with other bazaar dynamics. Numerous small attacks in rapid succession can have a greater impact than a single but more large attack. And the most dangerous aspect of this is that it can be carried out by a decentralized module with a very few but dedicated members. This way information is compartmentalized and no visible trails are left behind for the investigating agencies to follow up.

Recent attacks also suggest the motive of the perpetrators is not to cause death and destruction as much as it is to create panic and destabilize the system. True enough, after the Bangalore blasts Sensex dropped by more than 500 points and security alerts have been raised in all major cities, the total expense that the state would have to bear might well be thousands times (or millions ?) the expense that would have gone in to carry out the attacks. These financial losses may be significant but the primary objective was to create panic and a sense of distrust in the citizenry towards the state and the terrorists may not have failed completely in achieving it. A typical characteristic of a 4GW maneuver is the use of the strength of the society against itself. Technological development, especially development in the field of communication technology has helped terror networks coordinate and execute operations more efficiently. Propaganda has been an integral part of all forms of warfare including terrorism, the current reach of media into the living room of masses has made it an effective tool of 4GW forces.

Fighting and defeating an enemy that thrives by subverting our very own ideals and principles might not be such an easy task without requiring sacrifice of those very principles but then again sacrificing our cherished ideals would be nothing short of a defeat. Battle in a 4GW conflict is fought on a tactical level and won in the moral sphere. To engage 4GW terrorist networks and eliminate them without allowing them to damage the social fabric it would be necessary to understand their strategies and use their tactics against them. By tactics I do not mean the violence but the objectives that they want to achieve by using violence.
John Boyd, an important member of the American analyst group which formulated the concept of 4GW, suggests the following actions to counter terrorist network.

  • Undermine guerrilla causes and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.
  • Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption and eliminate grievances at the grass roots.
  • Infiltrate guerrilla movements and employ the population for intelligence on the guerrillas
  • Deploy administrative talent, police, and roving counter-guerrilla teams into affected regions.
  • Take and keep the initiative by relentless pursuit. Employ the guerrilla’s own tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, and surprise hit-and-run and sudden ambush to keep roving bands off-balance and to make base areas untenable.
  • Emphasize capture and conversion to government cause -- instead of harsh anti-population reprisal measures and “body count” – as a basis to undermine guerrilla influence.
  • Visibly identify central government with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.
  • Destroy guerrilla cohesion and break their hold upon the population via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast tempo/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort. [Source]

Interestingly, some of the actions that Boyd proposes have already been implemented in India during earlier insurgencies and scope exists for implementation of the rest of them. However, the current mood in India is one of rage and vengeance for the dastardly acts carried out against the nation. A section of the citizenry and political parties are demanding stringent anti-terror laws even if it requires us to surrender some of our rights and freedom. The above analysis reveals that given the nature of this conflict brute force would not only prove highly ineffective but may also take the fight against us. As has been seen before, the actual perpetrators of terror attacks either die during the operation or just vanish into the thin air, it is the innocent people especially those in wrong place at the wrong time or disagreeing with the ruling party's ideology who find themselves at the receiving end of the draconian laws. If the objectives of these attacks are to undermine cohesion and moral bonding in the society the only way to defeat them would be a greater show of unity and solidarity. This would not only counter the attacks but would also help weaken the organizational base of most of these terrorist networks. The first step forward would be affirmative political initiative that connects the government to the people and evolves national identity. If all sections of society are adequately involved in political processes, anti-national elements are likely to lose any base they might have built.

Some proactive and stern measures would also have to be taken but in a more pragmatic manner. All law enforcement agencies including intelligence services should be reformed and revamped. A message needs to be sent out to the authorities that these agencies exist for the security of the nation and not for running on personal errands of VVIPs or for stalking opposition leaders. A central agency may be created to monitor, infiltrate terrorist networks and prevent attacks from being carried out. It is quite possible that not all members of every terrorist group have the same level of conviction in the "cause" especially a "cause" that requires destruction of life and property. Ideological mentors and leaders play a major role in not only radicalizing and converting disenchantment towards the state into violent hatred but also in keeping the hatred alive. In such circumstances the catalyzing agents and indoctrinators should be eliminated and the rest should be converted to the government cause. If at all conversions take place the media should be used optimally to publicize and lure other disenchanted elements back into the mainstream.

As far as monitoring, infiltration and elimination is concerned, these tactics should not be novel for Indian law enforcement agencies. In a number of states the local police have used them to counter organized crime, in fact, the Mumbai police was exceptionally successful in eliminating or at least keeping at bay the threat of the underworld by adopting this strategy. Rehabilitation programs for history sheeters have also been implemented in many different parts of the country. There is no reason why this set of strategies cannot be used in fighting terrorism once there is sufficient political will.

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:00 AM

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Politics over N-Deal question our democratic credentials

Filled under:
Posted by: danish Ahmed 10:19 PM

The nuclear deal debate has polarised all political parties in India into two camps- those who support the nuclear deal and those who oppose it. Some months back I posted an entry here on the nuclear deal. My opinion on the agreement remains the same but my opinion of the Indian political parties has been further infuenced by the politics sorrounding the deal.

I have always considered the polity of India as a successful and vibrant democracy. It is easier to adopt democracy in culturally homogenous, prosperous and peacful countries like those of Europe but for a third-world country like India with its diverse cultures and traditions, heterogenous ethnicities and communities and acute socio-political and economic imparities, success of democracy is no mean feat. However, there are times when we begin to question ourselves on whether we, as a nation, nurture democratic temperament along with a democratic polity. The current political bickering is one such time when we are forced to question our democratic credentials.

As I said in the earlier post, it is very difficult to predict the consequences of the 123 agreement . It is one of those decisions whose merits and demerits can be known only after the results start coming in. For me the nuclear deal is more about if I can trust Manmohan Singh or not. After all, the last time I faced a similar situation was when Manmohan Singh as finance minister was bringing in economic reforms. I was in school then but still remember the apprensions and fear that the Leftists and the Rightists propogated. But apparently their allegations were misfounded since the economic condition of the nation has improved drastically.

But then Manmohan Singh is afterall a human being and is as prone to making error as everyone else (for a while lets just forget that he is a congressman also :p )
That is, of course, my personal opinion but the views of national-level political parties cannot be and should not be allowed to be influenced by political personalities but by merit and demerit of individual policies.
However there are indications that the current political bickering is more of a clash of personalities than a clash of ideologies. If the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is staking his own credibility on the n-deal and the Congress party is supporting him whole-heartedly, the Leftists rallying behind Prakash Karat who has taken up the task of defeating the deal as a personal vendetta. With general election round the corner it is now Manmohan Singh vs Prakash Karat vs L.K. Advani vs Mulayam Yadav/Amar Singh vs Mayawati. No matter who wins, it is the common man that stands to lose the most in this struggle if the political parties and their leaders don't look beyond their own selves, interests and narrow ideologies and work for the national interest.

With general election round the corner all political parties have taken stands that is percieved by them to be the best to garner their traditional voter base. The Left, a key member of the ruling coalition has formally withdrawn its support from the ruling coalition making Manmohan Singh's government a minority in the parliament. The Left Front may accuse the government of compromising the sovereignty of the nation to a foriegn power but most Indians know that the Left protests simply because that is the only thing it ever does. In fact, I will not be surprised to find the Left protesting against itself ! In the present context the Left could not be expected to take a different stand. Its ideology does not allow it to get into any sort of agreement with an imperialistic power like the USA. It is pretty intriguing why communists in India are so opposed to any sort of agreement with the US but rarely raise voice when fellow-communist China makes deals with the US. The Left argues that the 123 Agreement would undermine India's sovereignty. This is a purely speculative argument which may be proved or disproved in the future but in the present reality India's sovereignty has been time and again undermined by China during its numerous incursions into North-Eastern states. The Left Front has not exactly been very vocal about these incursions as it is being towards the nuke deal. On the other hand it views the nuke deal as America's game plan to encircle China.


It is interesting to note that both Left and the Right are united in opposition to the nuclear deal. The BJP has never been as anti-American as other Indian political parties have been but in this instance the saffron party prefers to side with the L. It is worth mentioning that Indo-US relationship recieved major boost during the NDA's rule. In fact, it was the Vajpayee government itself that laid the groundwork for the 123 Agreement but the BJP now opposes the same deal accusing UPA of making "strategic blunders". Leaders of the BJP say that if the goverment collapses now and the Sangh is voted in, it would renegotiate the deal with the US. I am sure that even the leaders who make such statements are aware that if the deal doesn't get through this time, it never will. Most likely the BJP's opposition to the nuclear deal stems from the fact that it wants the deal passed when it itself is in power and not allow the Congress to hijack it .

Now that the Right and Left are resolved to take whatever steps necessary to stop the government from going ahead with the N-Deal, the centrists led by Prime Minister are admant to see the N-Deal through. This is where the smaller parties and the regional parties come in. It now appears that after being rattled by the BSP the Samajwadi Party is willing to bail out the government. It is not clear what deal the party has struck with the Congress for changing its stand but ideologically it was in a strange dilemma. It could not afford to be seen voting along-side its bete-noire, BSP as well as the BJP which also happens to be the next powerful rival. At the same time the party did not want to risk losing its crucial Muslim voters base by supporting the agreement with the USA. The Samajwadi Party may have overcome its fear of losing Muslim votes but it has raised a question on whether political parties should be willing to meet every reasonable and unreasonable demands of its voters or should politicians also try to educate the masses in instances where their demands are found to be unreasonable.

Lately,Muslims world over dislike the US but almost all Muslim countries at this point of time are more aligned to the US than India ever can. The newly-elected government of Pakistan continues to take order from Washington without upsetting its voter base seriously. This trend indicates that inter-state relations are almost always governed with national interest in mind and not individual and communal perspectives. There is no reason why Indian Muslims would oppose the nuclear deal unless some political parties feed them wrong information to consolidate their vote-bank. I am not really sure if the Muslims are against the nuclear deal, no one around me is. Had the government of India been planning a military alliance with the US, not just Muslims but the majority of the Indian population would bitterly oppose it and for valid reasons too.

However, the 123 Agreement is not a military pact despite allegations made by its opponents, especially the Left Front. From what I learn from the media there is nothing in the agreement that could prevent India from walking out of it. Rapidly rising oil prices indicate that developing nations cannot depend completely on fossil fuels to sustain their growth rate in the future.
Even if we were to presume that this deal would actually influence India's foreign policy in the future, would we still be in a position to refuse negotiation for an indefinate period ?

As the world population increases and more and more regions begin to develop, the energy requirements would not be able to be met by the limited reserves of fossil fuels. Alternative and renewable sources of energy might then become crucial to sustain growth. Even a major oil producing country like Iran insists that it needs nuclear energy for development ( the US doesn't agree but its another story). For India to have access to nuclear technology and fuel even from traditional allies like Russia and France, it has to be formally admitted into the elite nuclear group which is unlikely to happen without US approval. Sooner or later India will have to gain admission into the nuclear bazaar by placing itself under the guidelines of the IAEA.
As the oil prices spiral out of control and inflation is on double digit Indian political parties should try to minimize their non-ideological differences and co-operate with each other for development's sake.

Posted By danish Ahmed 10:19 PM

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Arushi murder case and the role of the media and the police

The Aarushi/Hemraj twin murder case refuses to die out unlike most sensationalist crime stories do. As of now I have been trying to restrain myself from commenting on the episode but shoddy investigation by the police and insensitivity of the media compels one to speak out. From the time the crime was discovered to this day, this double murder case and the subsequent investigation has been telecast more like a reality show than a news report. Gruesome murders of a 14 year old daughter and domestic servant of a urban doctor couple are themselves horrifying enough to catch the media's attention, the ensuing mystery regarding the identity and motive of the killer(s) made sure that news reports pertaining to this case continued to grab headlines . If the police bungled up with the investigation, the ever enthusiastic media tried to compensate it by going over-board. One has to admit the fact that without media's unblinking gaze on it, the case record would have been lying in a dusty shelf of some nondescript police station. But it is also a fact that the media sensationalized the ghastly incidence to such an extent that the demarcation between news reporting and reality show stands blurred. In fact, news channels reporting on Arushi murder case can now claim to have a higher TRP than some of the most popular daily soaps. It has been observed that Hindi soap operas thrive by playing up taboo topics for the titillation of a class torn between conservative paradigm and forces of globalism.

In Aarushi/Hemraj murder case the media made every effort to highlight the elements of illicit relationships, adultery, fornication, mystery and honour killing in a bid to challenge the popularity of daily soaps ( Ironically, a popular daily soap has actually included a plot identical to Arushi murder case) . With new revelations being churned out by the investigative agencies on a daily basis this macabre reality show/soap opera is being beamed incessantly into our drawing rooms for more than a month creating a record of sorts. As far as I can remember no other incidence has been able to keep media's spotlight on itself for such a long period of time. In this war of TRPs a section of the media was willing to stoop such a base level that it actually went ahead and reported unverified information casting aspersions on the character of the dead girl. The civil society needs to question if the media and all agencies involved should be allowed to get away after besmirching our memory of a 14 year old who cannot even defend herself from the accusations hurled at her.

This is not the first time that the media has been criticized for unprofessionalism, lately the Indian media has transformed into what I call, "reality circus of cheap thrills, sleaze and superstition". But in Arushi murder case it is the police and not the media that has transformed these gruesome murders into a hugely popular soap opera. Had the police swung into action the moment it was informed of Arushi's murder, this case might not have become so complicated. The fact that the body of Hemraj was found on the terrace 24 hours after Arushi's body had been discovered indicates that the police were simply uninterested in tracking the murderer. It is quite apparent from the media reports that there were enough evidences indicating foul play but conspicuously enough the police just couldn't see them.

Well, this is not an isolated case of police inaction, thousands of criminal cases all over the country suffer similar fate. At times when criminal investigations are not influenced by monetary incentives or political pressures they are left to die a lingering death purely because of the apathetic attitude of the police. However, the Indian police is not that inefficient when it comes to using force on the ordinary people. In a recent article in the Times of India, Santosh Desai, points out that identity of the Indian police revolves around the brute force that it loves to exercise, it is simply incapable of something as intricate as investigation. It should also be noted that despite the rate of convictions in criminal cases being abysmal, jails in India are over-crowded. This situation arises largely because when it comes to nabbing a person and sending him/her jail all that is required is brute force but investigation requires the use of reason and logic which the police either lack or unwilling to apply. It is not surprising to note that whenever there is a public demand for a proper investigation of a crime, the Central Bureau of Investigation has to be brought in. As of yet the CBI has been pretty efficient but this is not why the CBI was created and it cannot take up each and every case.

It is time that the Indian police are reminded that if the civil society grants them the power to use force and coercion it is solely for the safety and welfare of the society. If it casts aspersions on the character of a dead teenager instead of nabbing her killer it only proves Desai's contention that the Indian police is just a desensitized, coercive and brutal agent of the state. As the crime rate continues to rise, reforms and sensitization of the force should be the first step forward.

Update
After 5 long years, the CBI court has indicted Rajesh and Nupur Talwar in the murder of their only daughter. It is ironic that when the CBI sought closure of the case because of lack of evidence against Rajesh Talwar, it was the father and mother of the dead girl who asked for the investigation to be reopened to bring out the truth. Further, it has been alleged that the investigation has been far from being fair, the court passes judgement relying upon facts and evidences presented to it by the prosecution as well as the defence. In this instance the investigation should have been as thorough as possible simply for the fact that both the allegations were shocking to the core. If indeed the doctor couple killed their only daughter for the sake of "honor" it would be shocking but what if they didn't ?

It would be far more than "shocking" if the investigators and media had been erroneously accusing the parents. Having lost their only daughter in a gruesome murder would be devastating enough for any parent but casting aspersion on their moral character as well as of their murdered daughter and then accusing them of murdering her would be far too torturous to describe. Were the investigative agencies sensitive enough to keep this in consideration or acting as per their own prejudice, partly based on media reports ?  Here is a report which addresses these questions in depth
 http://www.tehelka.com/2013/06/framed-the-aarushi-hemraj-murder-case-an-investigation/

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:29 AM

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Is the reservation policy still a form of affirmative action ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:50 AM

Gujjars in North India are on a war-path demanding schedule tribe status to avail reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. For a long time I believed that reserving seats in educational institutions and jobs for backward classes violated principles of equality. The government should provide free and good education and take every step to ensure that all sections of the society have equal access to jobs and higher education but when it comes to determining eligibility all candidates should have equal opportunity. This had been my belief until I realized that the present inequality in the Indian society is so acute that there cannot be a fair competition unless the socio-economic backward class is given some advantage over the forward class.

It is a common knowledge that since thousands of years, a large segment of the Indian population has been living in discrimination and deprivation on the basis of their castes. Such was the segregation and subjugation of the members of the "lower castes" that they were not allowed to even come into physical contact with members of "higher castes." The repression,subjagation and vilification of "Dalits" ( which literally means "trampled") was so great and assault on their dignity and self-esteem so damaging that even hope and aspirations had been snuffed out of them. Pitting them in fair competition against members of privileged class would amount to injustice towards them.

This discriminatory social structure has existed since more than a thousand years but there had never been a uniform code until the British era. While the British colonialists brought with them many social reforms, they were not particularly successful in discouraging casteism while creating a generic code. It has been alleged that the British actually legitimized the rigid and exploitative stratification of Indian society. When the Constituent Assembly was formed to draft the constitution, it found the undaunting task of rectifying this blunder of thousand years. Dalits and Adivasis were so hopelessly cut off from the mainstream that mere outlawing caste-based discrimination was not enough, the Assembly needed to introduce measures for upliftment of the backward castes. It was under these conditions that provision for caste-based reservation was incorporated in the Indian Constitution. It was a form of affirmative action aimed at restoring dignity and increasing political participation of the members of the backward castes (SC/ST OBC). These constitutional provisions were temporary in nature and were intended to be discontinued after the under-privileged classes had been integrated with the mainstream.

But since the commencement of the constitution, almost all political parties in India have viewed these provisions more as opportunities to consolidate their electoral bases rather than policies to bring about social justice. In the last two decades most political parties have been indulging in votebanks politics by exploiting caste antagonism. Far from eradicating unequality and integrating the backward castes to the mainstream, this brand of politics has led to further divisions and schisms in the Indian society while equality and social justice remains a distant dream. Further, caste-identity has now assumed sub-nationalistic proportions turning the Hindi-speaking states into a political battlefield where groups formed on the basis of castes vie with each other for greater share of the Indian pie.

In the process the very purpose of the reservation policy raises questions. Electoral success of political parties like BSP and SP which claim to represent backward castes indicates that members of scheduled caste may no longer be as socially and politically oppressed as they had traditionally been. Statistics from recent surveys suggest that the condition of the backward castes has improved significantly which may partly be attributed to the reservation policy. Backward castes' members now secure greater percentage of seats than their population fraction. The forward castes on the other hand are securing a lesser number of seats than their population ratio. SC/ST OBC are not the only section of the population who get preferential treatment in the matters of jobs and educational institutions, there are many other categories (women, handicapped, sportsperson, ex-service-men, their dependents, widows etc) for whom seats are reserved. After reservations for all these classes, the forward castes or the general class is left with very little opportunity, the percentage of seats secured by them is much lesser than the percentage of their population. Another factor which questions the merit of this policy is the fact that it perpetuates the caste system when the need is to abolish it.

The reservation policy needs rethinking especially in light of new political trends and surveys. Reverse discrimination policy exists for the upliftment of oppressed people and should under no circumstance be allowed to be used as a tool of votebank politics. I do not intend to say that the government should stop making special provisions for the upliftment of backward classes. The present inequality in the Indian society is too great and any effort to integrate the under-privileged with the mainstream would require special provisions. But the governments should look beyond caste identity in determining the sections of society that are really in need of help. At the same time care should be taken to ensure that the members of the forward class are not denied educational and employment opportunities due to them on the basis of their merit. It has been observed that rapid development in post-reform era has largely been contributions of private players. If successive governments had been unable to put India on fast track to development, it is doubtful if social justice can be achieved without participation of the private players. India Inc. should be encouraged to take affirmative action as part of its social responsibility programs.

Posted By danish Ahmed 12:50 AM

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Advent Of News Entertainment Inc.

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:38 AM

The Noida double murder case has sent the media into a frenzy raising a lot of questions, including some legitimate ones. Let us not forget that if at all there has been any break-throughs in the investigation, the credit for it goes to the media. From what is apparent, the police made every effort to abandon investigation and close the case but the media's unblinking gaze on the investigation forced the police to act.
Arushi/Hemraj murder case is one of those very few news items that get equal coverage in both vernacular and English news channels but the difference in the standard of journalism between the two is stark. While the English language news channels have not been able to balancing the issue correctly, one cannot even contemplate Hindi media reporting the case maturely. After all, this case has all the elements that TV reporters can only dream of. It is not surprising to find Hindi news channels focus on the elements of adultery, illicit relationship, mystery and honor killing, these are the elements they sometimes have to invent to make their programmes on crime reporting appear alluring. Coming back to the criticism of the Hindi visual media, especially on crime reporting one need be a regular viewer to write on them, infrequent glimpses during channel surfing are enough to get on the nerves. The quality of journalism can be known from the news bulletins themselves and exclusive but regular programs on crimes and investigation.

One of the first things that catches your attention is most likely to be the reporter/anchor of the show. It requires a fair amount of intelligence (or experience) to realise that the host is not trying to threaten or intimidate the viewers but is actually a failed actor trying to play the difficult role of a compere of a street show-cum- reporter. Like C-grade Bollywood movies, the title of these programs are chosen more to arouse perverse curiosity and promise cheap thrills than report crimes or other news events. Certain news channels have even given up all pretensions of journalism, and unabashedly employ cheap tactics to attract attention. A couple of channels have even begun dressing up their actors/reporters in police costumes to make the show more attractive and realistic (?).



Other programs reporting on exclusive stories employ similar visual effects, exaggerated story lines and dialogues, hysteria-stricken actors/reporters and apocalyptic or euphemistic captions. Most of the times the visual effects/graphics are so grotesquely naive that a 10 year old kid's creation comes across as more professional. The content in programs dedicated to crime reporting typically has to do something with sexual crimes, real or imaginary, dug out from the nondescript alleys of small towns to the glittering world of celebrities and tycoons.

The plot is reconstructed with the help of wannabe actors and every attempt is made to add cheap thrills and sleaze to the story. It is really difficult to decide whether the content is more perverse or the presentation is. Recently there have been two huge natural disasters, in Burma and China, resulting in deaths of more than a hundred thousand and leaving millions more homeless but our media did not consider the event worthy of a 30 seconds coverage while a high profile celebrities wedding or any another functions are aired non-stop the entire period. After celebrities, it is the gangsters, criminals and crooks who figure second in vernacular media's priority list. These gangsters and outlaws thrive on fear of the common people, by according them constant attention the media ends up glamorizing crime and making them more powerful then they already are. All this in the name of fighting crimes !

When talking on crime reporting and sensationalism one cannot ignore the role that sting operations and reality TV play in Hindi news channels. This form of investigative journalism has been in more than one instance used to trap known personalities with the help of honey-pots. Most of the times these sting operations are conducted more to capture clandestine activities on camera rather than highlight a wrong-doing. However, I must mention here that after the infamous sting operation on Delhi school teacher who was later found to having been falsely implicated because of personal enmity, TV channels have become cautious. But media's obsession with video-tape and live feeds continues unabated only the focus has shifted from sting operations to criminal investigation and reality TV. It has in many instances this obsession been used to convert non-issues into national issues and personal tragedies into reality shows. This lust for video-tape also results in Indian news channels promoting voyeurism and invading the privacy of celebrities and common people alike.

For a section of sexually starved population torn between conservative paradigm and forces of globalization these news channels provide the much needed sleaze without any explicit content. Indian conservatism does not allow sexual permissiveness or openness of any sort but it has not shown aversion to liberalization or globalization either. This has created a peculiar situation where we seek titillation and sexual thrill without violating our self-created rules. It is for this reason that an alternative ( magazines and movies) industry has always existed that seeks to repackage sleaze and other taboo subjects with crime and investigation, supernaturalism and stories since explicit sexuality is so looked down upon by our queerly moralistic society. Often, graphic details or dramatisation of sexual crimes are done for the very purpose that they seek to condemn. However, these magazines and movies were available in the market, it was on the individual if s/he wanted to buy it or not. For all purposes these materials were never given any sort of respectability but the same sleaze and cheap thrill are now beamed into our drawing rooms.

I wonder if an article on Hindi media can be complete without a reference to the Great Khali.
This 7-foot professional wrestler from Himachal Pradesh is a great favorite of almost all Hindi news channels. Khali has been transformed to something of a national hero after his successes in WWE, the coverage provided to him can only be equalled by even people like Sachin Tendulkar or Shahrukh Khan.

Well, creating a national hero out of someone who excels in a particular sport is not wrong but is it a sport and are these channels being truthful? WWE stands for World Wrestling Entertainment , it is a sports entertainment company that combines sports with theatrics to make it more glamorous and appealing. The sport is real (or should I say the blood is real) but the matches are scripted. What it essentially means is that the entire show is scripted and rehearsed, right from the pre-match challenges and histrionics to the actual results, everything has been premeditated. When the media reports it as a genuine sport it is misrepresenting facts and spreading lies. It realizes that a section of its population, especially, the lower middle class is in need of heroes and icons and to meet it and in the process raise their own TRPs, these news channels resort to lies and misrepresentation.

Similar factually incorrect and misleading news items have been aired but nothing has worked as well as Khali's exploits in WWE. So the pertinent question here would be what is common between Hindi news channels and WWE? The answer to this question is simple even if elusive. If WWE can be called sports entertainment because of the use of theatrics and glamour then Hindi news channels too can be categorised as pseudo-journalism or news entertainment. When the mainstream media indulges in such pseudo-journalism, it bodes ill for democracy.

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:38 AM