How Chavez made the media electorally irrelevant

BY SAEED NAQVI

“If much of the Western media is to be believed, I write this column from a country brutalised by an absurd tinpot caudillo, Hugo Chavez, who routinely jails any journalist or politician with the temerity to speak out against his tyranny”. This was written by Owen Jones of London’s The Independent from Caracas on the recent Venezuelan elections. And guess what happened: Chavez won handsomely.

But media malice continues. As an example Jones cites, among others Toby Young, author of “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”. According to Young, Venezuela is ruled by a “Marxist tyrant” and a “Communist dictator”. The defeated opponent in the presidential elections, Henrique Capriles, was portrayed by contrast as an inspiring, dynamic democrat determined to end Venezuela’s failed socialist experiment and open the country to much-needed foreign investment.

Doesn’t this yearning for “much needed foreign investment” by most of the losing politicians in Latin America resemble the sentiment of the Indian ruling class?

Owen Jones’, critique of the global media habitually dissembling about world leaders who thumb their noses at the West, is all the more compelling because it comes from one of the West’s very own. Jones continues “The reality of Venezuela could not be more distant from the coverage, but the damage is done: even many on the left regard Chavez as beyond the pale. Those who challenge the narrative are dismissed as “useful idiots”, following in the footsteps of the likes of Beatrice and Sidney Webb who, in the 1930s, lauded Stalin’s Russia, oblivious to the real horrors.”

Those in the media who were cheerleaders for Henrique Capriles, the defeated opposition candidate, must seriously reflect why they got this election so hopelessly wrong. They may take heart from the fact that they are not the first Chavez baiters who galloped straight into the windmill. There have been a procession of others, possibly more illustrious than they, who have been eating humble pie though 15 elections that Chavez has successfully been through ever since he won the first one in 1999.

He must be one of the most exasperating figures for the West to stomach. It would be easy to smother him under heaps of abuse had he silenced the media, painted blood signs on the doors of the rich, filled jails with his opponents: it would be gratifying driving nails into the coffin of such a monstrous tyrant. But he has done none of this. He has simply ignored the rich to their devices and improved the lot of the poor, by every development yardstick.

He has tolerated the private media, having 90 percent of the audience share. This “free” media dishes out daily doses of vitriol against Chavez. The person the “free” media rails against trounces his opponent the object of its adoration. It must be galling that the independently owned media has become so insubstantial, so impotent, unable to terminate the political life of a dictator they so hate? Here is room for the study of “free” media sans credibility, something the global media is rapidly becoming in pursuit of an agenda in yet another theatre – Middle East. What riles the media is this: “he has not even given us the opportunity to accuse him of repressing the media, or of blocking rallies against him which, in fact, are galore.”

Is he able to survive because he rigs elections? But all elections have been declared free by International Observers. One of these observers, President Jimmy Carter, described the country’s election process as “the best in the world”.

A mention of George W. Bush at this juncture would be proper because no recent US President has tried harder to stop Chavez. In fact the losing candidate on this occasion, Capriles, tried to do in 2002, with Bush’s help, what an earlier American administration succeeded in affecting in Chile: a Pinochet style coupe. And this effort at toppling Chavez was totally backed by Venezuela’s “free” media. Allowing a candidate with this record to contest against him reflects on his cultivated cockiness.

The Independent’s correspondent asks: “I wonder what would happen to Sky New and ITN if they had egged on a coup d’état against a democratically elected government in Britain?”

Much to the West’s chagrin, a series of South American leaders are only mildly distinguishable from Chavez in their leftist hue. In fact Brazil’s Lula de Silva spoke for most Latin American leaders when he said: “A victory for Chavez is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America. This victory will strike another blow against imperialism.”

Geographically, Fidel Castro and Chavez are within whispering distance from the US which has not concealed its incurable dislike for both. Castro has been on the hit list for half a century.

Why is it then that Saddam Hussain can be picked up from a rathole, Qaddafi sodomized by a knife in front of TV cameras, similar plots can be in the works for Bashar al Assad, but hate objects in the vicinity of the US are treated differently. Why? There could be interesting reasons.

Considering that India is part of BRICS, it cannot be indifferent to developments in Latin America. Ofcourse, there will a qualitative change in interest if the promised energy pipeline from China to Venezuela proceeds beyond the drawing boards.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Arrest Jindal for abetting a criminal act of violence: mmP

The national alliance of mining-affected communities and support groups- demanded the immediate arrest of Mr. Naveen Jindal, after senior security officers of Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL), Brigadier (Retd.) K.K. Chopra and Deputy Manager S.N. Panigrahi surrendered in Raigarh district court on Friday, in relation to the armed assault on activist Ramesh Agrawal.

The court sent them to a police remand till October 25th. The police had earlier arrested four people in the case- Sangram Singh, Sanjay, Naresh Patro and Tarkeshwar Rai.

On 7th July, 2012, Ramesh Agrawal of Jan Chetna Manch was shot twice in broad daylight at his office in the industrial town of Raigarh, Chattisgarh, and had to be operated upon twice in Raipur and Mumbai. Agarwal is best known for fighting for the rights of communities threatened by illegal mining and industrialisation perpetrated by the Jindals, and it is at their hands that he has faced the most ruthless intimidation. While his medical expenses are mounting and he is faced with the need for further surgery and a prolonged period of recovery, the local community and activists are confident that justice will prevail.

The private sector steel major, JSPL, has steel and power plants and other interests in Raigarh district, which the company treats almost as its private fiefdom. JSPL’s environmental irregularities had been brought to the notice of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) by Mr. Agrawal. While the government was forced to initiate action, it subsequently found ways to accommodate the interests of its party colleague, Naveen Jindal.

Finally, the National Green Tribunal stuck down the environmental clearance awarded and remarked that the whole public hearing was a mockery of democratic procedure. 

The last time the Ministry withdrew the Terms of Reference for Environmental Impact Assessment, JSPL filed false cases of extortion and defamation against Mr. Agrawal and his colleagues, and he was tortured, handcuffed and chained to a hospital bed as an undertrial. The case eventually bit the dust in the Supreme Court. This time around, when the National Green Tribunal suspended JSPL’s environmental clearance, Mr. Naveen Jindal and his employees have resorted to eliminating all dissent by force. The fact that a senior officer who has adorned the rank of Brigadier has surrendered is ample proof that the Management was closely involved in the entire plot.

As Mr. Agrawal and his colleagues amply point out, there has been no cause for personal animosity among any of these people so far in custody, while there is prima facie evidence that JSPL has been involved in harassing and eliminating anyone seeking justice. “It is a ploy to protect the Jindals that the officer in charge of the security agency is being surrendered. The management of JSPL is at its pits; two workers have died in the supposedly “closed” plant,” said R. Sreedhar, Chairperson of mm&P. It may be recalled that the plant was shut down by the Green Tribunal on a petition filed by Mr Ramesh Agarwal. “We demand the immediate arrest of Mr. Naveen Jindal and that a CBI probe is instituted into all the projects of the company.” Similar stories of violence, violations and repression by the Jindals are taking place in Angul in Odisha and in its various operations across the country.

Given its proximity to power, the company is treating all laws with impunity. Secretary General, Ravi Rebbapragada, said that beyond his arrest and interrogation, “We demand that the government confiscate natural resources worth billions given away, as the industry is violating all the laws of the land and indulging in downright violence.”

(This is a press release issued by mines, mineral & People, a growing alliance of individuals, institutions and communities who are concerned and affected by mining. The release do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

India’s role in the Muslim World: A Foreign Policy challenge

BY SAEED NAQVI

Supposing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seated across the table with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, were to say: “The murderous regime in Syria has killed 30,000 of its own citizens. India by itself has no clout in Syria. There is nothing you can do on your own. It is time therefore that you become part of the solution by falling in line with us. Assad simply cannot have a role in the solution having murdered so many. You must make a choice: does the obstructive role being played by Russia and China deserve your support? And you know as well as anyone else that the regime’s days are numbered.”

What would be Krishna’s response to this imaginary statement? Well, imaginary the statement may be but, with moderated tonal quality, it may yet reflect sentiments the Indian side has heard from their US counterparts in recent exchanges on West Asia. Do Indians listen in silence to this case for the prosecution? Or do they dwell on the case for the defence? Being reminded that India has no hand to play, must hurt.

What exactly is the situation inside Syria? When I was there, which is several months ago, the world media had conceded outright victory to the Syrian opposition and safe havens were being considered for Assad and his family. The Assads are still around, although speculation is rife of him being considered for “targeted killing” as distinct from “political assassination”. Wondrous play on words!

There is a difficulty analyzing a dynamic story like Syria where so much technical, military, human resource has been injected from outside. We may have forgotten but once we described this as cross border terrorism. The facts on Syria this reporter internalized in August, 2011, can be only partly relevant a year after the first external probes began to find local hospitality. And then external and internal amalgamated into scores of opposition groups.

The earlier case was based on personal observation and interviews. Contrary to conventional wisdom a year ago, Assad could not fall because he controls (loosely now) a Ba’ath power structure not dissimilar to the one Saddam Hussain supervised in Baghdad. It took Shock and Awe, invasion, occupation, half a million Iraqi lives, thousands of US and British soldiers dead: only then was the US able to leave Iraq the wreck that it is today. Does the West have the stomach to repeat that in Syria when Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya continue to be weeping sores?

Such a question would be particularly valid at this juncture when the world is waiting for a new administration to emerge in Washington. But the reality is that Foreign Policy – and National Security establishment in Washington, barring extraordinary change at the top, moves seamlessly from one administration to the next: faces change, but attitudes do not.

Election season or no election season, the US establishment focused on West Asia is pushing ahead regardless, holding the hand of France, Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, orchestrating the eventual fall of the Syrian regime.

In high stake poker there is always a little bit of bluff and bluster. There may be some here too, particularly to play on Russian nerves. As a scholar told me in Moscow recently: “Putin will not let down Assad, but fewer are the chances of his letting down Russia!”

Mikheil Saakashvili’s eclipse in Georgia must have provided relief in Moscow from the relentless Western pressure on Syria. For the time being, Moscow and China will stand their ground because the cost of an alternative policy will be too high in the region.

The Saudi interests are clear: a fear of encirclement by Shia populations. But surely Saudi Wahabis will remain a minority even in an augmented Sunni ocean, the kind of Sunnism that obtains in the region stretching from Morocco right upto the borders of Saudi Arabia.

Two Saudi Crown Princes have died in the past year. The current one is ailing and King Abdullah is in and out of hospitals. A durable Saudi strategy must await the impending succession to be over.

The lightening shift in Turkish policy in the region has astonished observers. Well known journalist Mehmet Birand told me last year. “We were a docile ally of the US in the past and now a dissident country in the Western Alliance.” No longer can he say that. Tayyip Erdogan won three straight elections incrementally increasing his vote from 36 to 42 and in 2011 to 49 percent. His declared ambition was to have “zero problems with all our neighbours”. With neighbouring Greece on its knees, Turkey’s rise seemed unprecedented.

Why has Erdogan staked so much on the Syrian expedition?

  • Firstly, does he see Democratic Turkey as a model for the Muslim world in transition?
  • Secondly, is this vision accompanied by echoes of an Ottoman past which, he must know, is anathema to the Arabs?
  • Third, is his Akhwanul Muslimeen core, earlier toned down to be acceptable to the Army’s Kemalist secularism, resurfacing with the Akhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) on the rise elsewhere in the Arab world?
  • Four, is he not opening up fronts with 18 million Kurds, 20 million Turkish Alawites, and Russia’s Slav and Orthodox Church links in the Balkans which had been tamed in the recent past. Forcing a Moscow-Damascus flight, carrying some Russian families, land in Turkey on suspicions of arms being shipped has caused President Putin to postpone his visit to Ankara.
  • Five, what is the design in provoking direct confrontation with Iran?
  • Six, is the biggest incentive for the shift the large off shore gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean? This deserves to be focused on.

Whatever the combination of motives, the gamble for Turkey is a huge one.

Iran, ofcourse, must continue to live dangerously between negotiation on the nuclear issue and the risk of being attacked. “Attack Iran” lobby has not weakened in Israel or the US.

In all of this, where does India stand? In the fictitious script Hillary Clinton says India has no clout in the region. Possibly true. But how did Nehru and Indira Gandhi have influence in the area. It will be argued that that was during the Cold War, when India led the Non Aligned which became redundant in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse.

But with Western decline, a new world order may well be taking shape. In shaping the new equilibrium New Delhi does have a leadership position in groupings like the Non Aligned which will meet in Cairo in coming years. Only by reinventing its leadership role in such groupings will New Delhi insulate itself from the ignominy of being told that in so and so part of the world India does not matter.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Copy of FIR filed by Jindal Group against Zee News

The alleged extortion row between Congress MP Naveen Jindal’s company and senior officials from Zee News seems to be escalating with the business group filing an FIR with the Delhi Crime Branch seeking action against the channels officials.

A recent newspaper report states that the Delhi Police Crime Branch has registered an FIR (criminal conspiracy, extortion, and defamation) filed by the Jindal Group against Samir Ahluwalia and Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News, Zee Group Chairman Subhash Chandra, its Managing Director Punit Goenka, and some others from Zee News.

The HR head of the Jindal Group in his complaint has alleged that Chaudhary and Ahluwalia tried to extort money (Rs 100 crores in form of advertisement commitment) from the company in lieu of not covering stories related to Jindal Steel and coal block allocation scam. The FIR states that Jindal Group officials met the Zee editors more than once at the Polo Lounge of Hotel Hyatt Regency in the capital.

(Click here to read the full FIR filed against Zee News editors)

The Jindal Group has also alleged that these extortion activities were carried out by these senior editors with the full knowledge of Zee Chairman Subhash Chandra.

Meanwhile, the Delhi-based Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) has set-up a three-member fact-finding committee to look into the allegations pertaining to ethical lapses on the part of the Zee editors. Interestingly, Sudhir Chaudhary, one of the persons named in the FIR is the Treasurer of the BEA. The fact-finding committee consists of N K Singh (BEA General Secretary), Rahul Kanwal (Managing Editor of the Headlines Today) and Dibang (Member of BEA and veteran journalist).

Revealed: Why is Vadra exempt from airport security checks?

Members of India Against Corruption Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan today created a storm by alleging a nexus between Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and top construction company DLF.

“In the last 4 years Robert Vadra has gone on a property buying binge and has purchased at least 31 properties mostly in and around New Delhi, which even at the time of their purchase were worth several hundred crores,” IAC members alleged.

Read about all the allegations and questions raised by Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan here

And this is not the first time these questions have been raised against the famous son-in-law. The Economic Times did a story about this last year but did not generate that much buzz. One aspect about Vadra that has been widely discussed across the country is the extraordinary exception that has been made for him by the government. He has been granted exemption from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports in the country, which is strange given the fact that he holds no public office and is a private citizen. (See image below to see who all are exempted)

VIPs-List

So why is Vadra exempted from frisking at airports despite being a civilian? Nobody had a clue till sometime ago when an RTI filed by a group called RTI Anonymous forced the Ministry of Home Affairs to explain why Vadra was being exempted from security checks at airports.

“Shri Robert Vadra has been granted exemption from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports in the country on the recommendation of this Ministry as a special case as he is married to a SPG protectee i.e. Smt. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in consolation with Central Security Agencies,” the Home Ministry said in its reply to the RTI.

RTI-Robert-Vadra-Airport-Checks

The details in this regard are exempted from disclosure under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act 2005. Shri Vadra has been exempted from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports only while traveling with SPG protectee,” the reply further stated. (View the RTI reply below)

A Congress leader and a Congress Session – both mysteriously forgotten

BY SAEED NAQVI

So anchored is the Indian ruling class to caste as an essential variable that any discussion of politics or political leadership which steers clear of this basic fact will always be incomplete.

And yet it is in this “incompleteness” that most of the discussion on current affairs is sustained. Friends, who sometimes double up as colleagues too, generally avoid delving into intricacies of caste when conversation turns to classes of which they are a part. Only lower castes can be discussed. Period.

As a direct consequence of democracy in a developing society where it will always be accompanied by egalitarianism, upper castes have ofcourse been unsettled. Egalitarianism is a contentious turnstile which facilitates and obstructs different sets of people towards a deceptively distant equilibrium – deceptive, because equilibrium has been achieved pretty quickly, almost unnoticed.

Take for instance, Chattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, all BJP ruled states where, but for exceptions, Chief Ministers are not from the upper caste.

The Congress which has carefully preserved the Caste structure, has undergone change too: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Kerala, Delhi and Uttarakhand mostly under non upper caste Chief Ministers. Sheila Dikshit in Delhi and Vijaya Bahuguna in Uttarakhand are Brahmins and therefore exceptions. Who knows, Sheila’s may well be a future worth watching if she clears this round.

To these lists add UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and you have the country fairly firmly in the grip of the “new ruling classes” who have come up the social ladder. Just as new converts are more orthodox in their religious outlook, the new ruling class is in its policies fairly imitative of the class it has replaced.

The problem is to find a leadership at the Centre which will hold the sum of the nation’s parts together. This is the conflictual zone where there is no resolution in sight. In fact caste conflict at the level of the Centre has in the past been extremely bitter.

End of October will be the 12th death anniversary of one of the most remarkable, homespun, “aam aadmi” of the Congress Party. He served in the Union Cabinet under Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. He was President of the Congress for a spell. Above all, he was Treasurer of the Party for 16 years under three Congress Presidents. At a time when the Congress is wriggling against the wall facing charges of corruption, here was the longest serving Treasurer of the Party at whom no finger has ever be raised for corruption. His name was Sitaram Kesari. And yet such deathly silence about him!

Nothing became the Congress less than the manner in which this senior, but low caste Party President was thrown out of office. A fear grew that in the wake of the Congress withdrawing support to the Inder Gujral minority government that Kesari may sneak in as Prime Minister, advantageously placed as he was – Congress President.

Kesari was summarily removed by the Congress Working Committee and Sonia Gandhi installed in his place. Senior Congress leaders went about supervising his name plates being wrenched out of the Party office walls. He was even turfed out of his Rajya Sabha seat.

Why was so much humiliation heaped on Kesari? Because he was of lowly origin who dared to aspire?

There is another instance which sheds light on the Congress attitude to inner Party democracy and, coincidentally, caste: the All India Congress Committee session in Tirupati in April 1992 when P.V. Narasimha Rao attempted to replace the system of a nominated CWC. The AICC was invited to hold direct elections but the results upset the leadership’s caste calculations. Arjun Singh, a Rajput, led the field by a long margin. He was followed by Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot, both intermediate castes.

Party Managers got into a huddle. The results of the election were declared null and void.

The moral ofcourse is that each one of the so called senior leaders seated in a circular formation at CWC sessions are under the alert gaze of their immediate neighbours just in case they, anyone of them, begin to nurse ambitions independent of the Party President. A strong gravitational pull keeps the caste hierarchy within the Congress leadership anchored to the ground.

These are the circumstances in which Congressmen are contemplating the general elections of 2014. Whom will the Party President select to take the lead as Prime Ministerial candidate? It is always easier to pick someone who is from outside the caste circle – like Dr. Manmohan Singh was. Or, if only he were willing, the Congress hierarchy would rapturously accept Rahul Gandhi, for the simple reason that he is not one of them. Dynasty gives him elevation and frees him from the gravitational pull that ties them down. Many in their ranks have taken heart from his visibility in Kashmir.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)