Portrait of a Muslim home in shadow of rising BJP colossus

BY SAEED NAQVI

It was a spectacular celebration. The beating of drums, sprinkling of colours, group songs, dancing continued well after dusk.

As I watched from my window, a thought crossed my mind: why had we not been invited? Ours is the only Muslim home in the colony, but a pride of place has always been accorded to us in all celebrations, including holi. We have inherited this knack of integration from our elders. The Mahant of Shiv Sharan Das temple in Lucknow always made special bhang free thandai for my father on holi.

I called up the President of the Residents Welfare Association to register my protest. He was vacationing at Corbett Park. There had been deaths in the neighbourhood; RWA had therefore not organized a holi celebration. It was private initiative – some friends had come together for the festivities.

We know them well, but they probably did not include us in their list of revelers because they thought we may not be in the celebration mode or in depression at the turn of political events. Such are the ogres, imagination conjures up.

Yes, one is afflicted by deep anxiety but Narendra Modi’s extraordinary victory is only a fraction of the problem. The anxiety is accentuated by the context in which politics is unfolding. Spaces for open discussion – political, social, economic and cultural – are shrinking. In any case they are all in the hands of philistinism and propaganda. This afflicts not all of the media, but a large chunk of it. A creeping voicelessness therefore is our anxiety.

I was with family in Mustafabad, my village near Rae Bareli, where my sister keeps a television with its tube burnt out – no images only sound. It is surrealistic. We heard the election results in stupefied, stunned silence. My cousin Asghar broke the silence.

“The state of the Muslims in the country is just like your television, Suraiya – blind but noisy”

Suraiya asked: “How have the Muslims fared?”

Asghar: “They have helped the BJP win and now they are terrified at the outcome:

Khuda ko aihle Jahaan
Jub banaa chuke to, Firaq
Pukar uthe ki, isi ne
Hamein banaya tha.
(After men had completed making their God.
Look, they screamed, it is He who made us)

Juggle around with this couplet and you get a fair idea of how Muslims are themselves responsible for the rise of the BJP. First they help strengthen the BJP, then they cry: we are afraid.”

Suraiya was angry. She sought my intervention. “Why blame the Muslims?” She asked.

I said: “Asghar is right. Blind folded by their myopic mullahs, Muslims have since Partition followed false Gods.”

Asghar chipped in: “The headline story one day was: Mayawati to field 100 Muslim candidates. The media lapped it up. The 100 Muslim candidates became a chant, mornings, afternoons, evenings.

Next headline: Akhilesh-Rahul Gandhi alliance will attract Muslim votes. Will Rahul repel Muslim votes because of Congress inaction during the demolition of Babri Masjid? Will Akhilesh be able to neutralize Muslim anger against the Congress? Muslim, Muslim, Muslim. Do you think this “Muslim, Muslim” incantation is honeyed music even to the most moderate Hindu. It is custom made for Hindu consolidation.”

Suraiya asked: “Which party then should the Muslims have supported?”

There was silence.

“None” I said.

“What do you mean?” Suraiya persisted.

“The only role at this juncture for Indian Muslims in India’s electoral politics is to enable Hindu consolidation. This may not occur to the Muslim voter but this is the consequence of his politics.”

Basically, the Muslim is not at fault. The Congress party is – from the very beginning. When it agreed with Lord Louis Mountbatten and Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Partition the country on religious lines, it had diluted its own stand on the two-nation theory i.e. Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations. Once you created Muslim Raj (Pakistan), India had glided seamlessly from British Raj to Hindu Raj. I have argued this case in my book: “Being the Other: The Muslim in India”. A fair bargain could have been struck with the Muslim even at that stage, avoiding all the hypocrisy about secularism.

The leaderless Muslim, mesmerized by Nehruvian blandishments, pitched his tent in the Congress Park as its permanent vote bank. In the 80s, V.N. Gadgil, General Secretary of the Congress took me into confidence. “Muslim appeasement is beginning to rankle with the Congress’s Hindu base.” This “appeasement” was exposed by the Sachar Committee Report in 2005. Successive Congress governments had brought Muslim socio-economic status down even below the Dalits. Some appeasement.

After the Muslim vote defected en masse from the Congress following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, a seering truth has settled in the Muslim mind. The Congress had cheated the community from day one. So he left the Congress but having done so, where should he go? Rank casteist parties SP and BSP opened their doors. In a daze, the Muslim walked in as an enabler of casteist power. There was nothing in it for him.

And now, Congress, SP, BSP are all fallen icons, piled up in a lifeless heap. Where should the Muslim go?

Suraiya’s was the last word. “Are you saying we should not complain about the BJP’s anti Muslim plank? They were open on where they wanted to take the nation? Our plaint should be registered against parties which pretended to protect our interest but knowingly or unknowingly facilitated the BJP’s Hindu Rashtra? With rampaging hatred against Pakistan, unsettled conditions in Kashmir, it is custom made to target us as the Other against which Hindu consolidation will progress.” Had “Hindu Raj” been accepted at the outset, she added profoundly the excruciating process of welding “Hindu Rashtra” from the caste pyramid would have been avoided. The Muslim was used as a foil in this process. This hurt.

(Saeed Naqvi is a 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)

If India does not survive, then who would?

BY RSN SINGH

What has conspired in Delhi University (DU) recently is not a matter of ‘freedom of speech’. It is also not a case of ‘intellectual freedom’. Some of the key conspirators are students to whom college degrees have been eluding for several years. In these intervening years, they have been availing facilities and funds provided by the government at the cost of many other more deserving and less privileged young boys and girls. The years that these students have taken in struggle with academics are indicative of their sincerity, character and mental abilities.

Who on this earth would like to listen to eructation’s of such imbeciles in a seminar? These characters have found support from the same teachers who have not been able to bring them to the standards of barely passing the examinations in the stipulated time. These teachers do not carry even a hint of guilt.

What is palpable of these teachers is not their academic learning but their anti-India posturing on various TV channels. Are these teachers only to impart education to those with whom they share ideological affinity? Don’t they have a wider and more sacred responsibility? This criminal compact between subverted teachers and students in the college campuses is wrecking India from within.

The whole DU incident needs to be seen with the prism of national security, which has two vital components, i.e. internal security and external security. In fact, national security is an outcome of the degree of harmony between the two.

To decipher the phenomenon of the student-teacher criminal compact in JNU, Jadavpur, Osmania and now Delhi University, the evolving contours can be traced back to the year 1979. This was the year when the Iranian Revolution took place, this was the year when there was an attack on Mecca and this was the year when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Consequently formidable jihadi machinery in the name of ‘global jihad’ was assembled by the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan on the Af-Pak border region. Money and weapons flowed from Saudi Arabia and US respectively.

The then US National Security Advisor Brzezinski is on record to say that he provoked the Soviet Union in doing so. He told the then US President Jimmy Carter that Soviet Union has been given its ‘Vietnam’. Films were produced in the US with the theme ‘Islam versus Communism’. Communist Soviet Union after a long decade of war in Afghanistan had to retreat and the Union collapsed. The jihadis were triumphant. The grand finale of the Cold War was won by jihadis for the US. It could not have been possible without the Saudi money, its Wahhabi ideology and a jihadi president of Pakistan – Zia-ul-Haq. The US strategic interests in Afghanistan waned and it left the field open to the machinations of Pakistan.

It may be underscored that the collapse of Soviet Union was not because of lack of military wherewithal, but due to the jihadi ideology which proved more formidable than Communism.

The communists retreated and the jihadis won in Afghanistan, but these two vicious ideologies struck with vengeance on India. A number of global jihadi groups were unleashed by Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment on Kashmir. These groups were indeed heady and over-confident after having humbled Super-Power. They reckoned that Kashmir was not more than six months job for the Afghanistan war hardened mujahideens. The Indian Army made them realize that their jihadi fighting prowess may have defeated communist soldiers, but was no match to Indian nationalism. It is then that the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan embarked on proxy war. Concurrently, communist China revived its own proxy war in form of ‘Maoists’. Subsequently, some European countries and Church organizations also tapped in.

This proxy war has an overwhelming ideological component. A proxy war cannot be without proxies. Consequently proxies were created at various levels. The communists had mastered the art of infiltrating judiciary, academia and the media. In fact, their capture of these institutions was nearly total. Communist parties in mainstream politics cleverly used the Maoists to terrorize Indians in the hinterland especially in mineral rich areas and areas where they could forge a criminal compact with the jihadis and church organizations for de-stablishing India.

The symbiosis of relationship between the mainstream communist parties and the Maoists was evidenced recently when the CPI national executive member Binoy Vishwam paid tribute to top Maoist leaders Kuppu Devraj and Ajitha, who were killed in an encounter in Nilambur Forests on 24-Novembr 2016. He said: “it is the duty of a communist to pay respect to a felled comrade.” He also went on to say that when the left-wing is ruling the state, police should not resort to right-wing attitude.

It is the communists in India, who have created the term ‘right-wing’ to justify their existence and neutralize the ‘nationalists’.

Thus, India has been impacted by two ideologies completely foreign in their import and alien to the Indian soil, i.e. jihadism and Maoism.

This author as a part of government sponsored study project on Maoism travelled through the ‘Red Corridor’. In this study tour, he interacted with the District Magistrate of Gaya, who narrated an incident wherein the Maoists had issued a diktat that only ‘Black Flags’ will be hoisted in all schools on the Independence Day. In one of the schools, a girl of Class-VIII in a fit of reaction pulled down the black flag and hoisted the ‘National Flag’. Her family is missing since then. Was she a ‘right-winger’? Did she not deserve ‘nationalist freedom’ in the school campus? Was she a ‘right-wing’ goon?

The fact of the matter is that all these terminologies, i.e. left-wing, right-wing, communism and socialism are foreign terms, which do not reflect the reality and genius of the Indian land. The word ‘socialism’ was inserted into the preamble of our ‘sacred Constitution’ 25 years later. It may be mentioned that B R Ambedkar had refused to put it in the preamble arguing that it should be best left to the genius of future generations, who may come-up with better political concepts. Ironically, it is these foreign ideologies that are buffeting India.

Indian military thinkers and planners look at Pakistan and China only through the prism of force levels and military capabilities. The ideological component of Pakistan as an ‘Islamic State’ and China a ‘Communist State’ has not engaged their due concern. The attack on the Pathankot airbase was not a military attack, but an ideological attack through jihadis, nurtured in the religious factories of Pakistan which provides an endless supply of suicide-bombers. Similarly, the Chinese are not fighting the war on the borders, but inside the Indian hinterland through the Maoists in all forms. Its manifestation is the ‘Red Corridor’ and over-ground anti-India agitation of the Maoists in some universities of India. No wonder the students at the JNU danced and feasted all night when 73 CRPF soldiers were killed. So much respect for martyrs and martyrdom!

The meeting of Maoists and the jihadis in the universities or the national capital is not incidental. One source, who was in Pakistan, revealed to this author that in a gathering in Karachi, a Pakistani ISI operative, Cheema, unveiled the project of bringing the jihadis and the Maoists together in the national capital. This ISI operative was posted in the High Commission of Pakistan and orchestrated the anti-national drama at the JNU. He was subsequently identified and sent back to Pakistan by the Indian authorities.

The process of forging the nexus between the Maoists and the Jihadis has been going on for some years now. Some of the ISI-operatives based in Bangladesh have confessed as such during their interrogation. It also emerged that Dawood too wanted to tap into this nexus to get a foot-hold in the illegal mining industry.

What is, however, most alarming is the ISI–Maoist criminal nexus to cause large scale casualties on hapless, unsuspecting railway passengers in India. An ISI man Shamshul Hoda, an aspiring politician in Nepal, was one of the key plotters in this regard. He was responsible for the derailment of Indore-Patna Express in which 150 people had died. Later there was also an attempt to blow-up a railway track at Ghorasan in East Champaran District of Bihar. When the bomb failed to explode, two Indian operatives (Maoists with criminal record), were called to Bara in Nepal and killed by Hoda’s men. Such attempts have also been made in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The conspiracy is linked to Karachi in Pakistan and subsequently it traverses through Dubai, Nepal and into North Bihar. Money, more importantly fake currency, plays a big role in this entire affair. Nepal is thus serving as a nerve center for targeting railways by the ISI-Maoists nexus. It needs to be emphasised that this nexus is being forged under the Maoist dispensation in Nepal.

What India is witnessing in some of the University campuses is the meeting point of two murderous foreign ideologies – jihad and Maoism. Both have traveled to India after spilling rivers of blood through the territories that they traversed. Communism arrived in India after killing nearly two million people in Russia and three million people in China.

When the war between jihad and communism began in Afghanistan, the great Pashtun leader Bacha Khan said: “I can see the rivers of blood flowing across Pakistan and when it reaches India, it would be catastrophic for the region”. When questioned about the logic of including India in his prophecy, he said: “I have seen the violent response of ‘Hindu Baniya’ in retaliation to Mullahs provocation during the partition riots. Violence shall not confine itself to geographical boundaries, but it will travel far and wide and would be impossible to extinguish”.

India can only ignore the murderous ideological component of proxy wars by Pakistan and China at its own peril. As China and Pakistan move from strategic embrace to territorial embrace twin ideological threat is getting increasingly accentuated. Those who need to be immediately confronted are the ones who have taken the English route to jihad and Maoism under the garb of liberals and intellectuals. In India, English speaking jihadis generally masquerade as Communists. Liberty can survive only in secure space. Both the ideologies have killed the liberal space wherever they have held sway.

This author was told by the Collector of Dantewada in Chattisgarh that the Maoists repeatedly destroyed all electric poles erected under the Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutkaran Yojna, because they did not want their captive tribal to be exposed to benefits of electricity and TV. The agenda of Maoists is destruction and not development.

It is therefore the sacred duty of English speaking and non-English speaking patriots to take-on the English speaking shopkeepers of anti-nationalism in this war of ideologies or war of narratives. If India does not survive, then who would?

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

Carnage at Qalandar Shrine: The Shia, Sunni, Sufi triangle

BY SAEED NAQVI

Audiences in their hundreds of thousands across the subcontinent will remember Reshma with her flashing eyes and haunting, gypsy voice singing “Dama dum mast qalandar”. Well, that’s the Dhamaal signature tune. It was the punchline of this song which had become controversial when President Zia ul Haq set Pakistani Islam on a course of Arabization in the 80s in order to wrench it away from the syncretic Islam which hundreds of Sufi schools had established in India since the 13th century. “If Iran imbibes Indian culture, it will still remain Iran, but if Pakistan retains Indian traditions, it will over time become India.” That was the General’s warped reasoning.

The suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sindh, which killed nearly 100 devotees last week, is unlikely to dampen the Dhamaal spirit, the ecstatic dance performed in the shrine’s courtyard at dusk every Thursday to the magical rhythm of drums. Nazir Akbarabadi has a brilliant poem on “haal” or trance. It describes perfectly the transcendent dance at Dhamaal. Terrorism is too feeble an instrument to kill the idea.

The punchline of the Mast Qalandar song is “Ali da pehla number” which means “Ali is first”. This, unfortunately, touches on the principal point of difference between Shias and Sunnis. Shias believe that the prophet’s son-in-law, Ali should have been the first inheritor of the Prophet’s worldly and spiritual responsibilities, the Caliphate. Sunnis accept what actually happened: the Prophet’s senior companion, Abu Bakr Siddiq became the first Caliph of Islam.

To avoid further controversies, the punchline was amended. It became “Ali dum dum de andar”, or Ali is in every breath.

The two sects cite different traditions to advance their claims. The Shias point to the episode of Ghadir Khumm. Returning from his last Haj, the prophet stopped at an elevated spot in Ghadir, held Ali by the hand and announced to the congregation that they must respect Ali’s primacy after the Prophet’s death.

While creating Qawwali as a devotional form of music, Amir Khusro dressed up this episode as a compulsory Qaul or declaration of faith to be sung at the start of every Qawwali session. Google Qawwali and search “Mun Kunto Maula, Fahaza Ali Maula”, (Roughly translated it means: he who considers me his spiritual and temporal leader must accord the same status to Ali).

It is an open and shut case, claim the Shias. The prophet had publicly passed the baton to Ali.

Sunnis advance their claim differently: when the Prophet was fatally ill, he asked his companion Abu Bakr to lead the Friday prayers.

Why are Shia-Sunni differences being explained in the context of an attack on the Sindh Sufi shrine? Because in popular perception there is a lack of clarity on the Shia, Sunni, Sufi triangle.

Sufi saints were all of Sunni origin as are the overwhelming majority of devotees at their shrines. There will be a sizeable number of Hindu and a sprinkling of others.

If most of those in attendance at shrines like Shahbaz Qalandar are Sunnis why would Jihadist Salafis, who are also Sunni, kill them so brutally. Islamic State claimed “credit” for the carnage in Sindh. The IS, let it be clarified, is an amalgam of Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, offshoots of Al Qaeda, Jabhat al Nusra and dispossessed Baathists from Iraq now standing on a militant, Sunni platform because post Saddam Hussain Baghdad is largely in Shia hands. In other words each component of IS may have different emphases but together they form a critical mass.

The harsh Salafi disapproval, even visceral hatred for Sufis, can be explained in broad terms: the Sufi incorporation of music, dance, local customs into their practice of Islam. Also, their acceptance of people of all faiths, castes, their general Catholicism, contrast sharply from the arid austerities of the Salafis. But this does not fully explain the intensity of their anger. This is focused on the personality of Ali who is the centerpiece of Sufi ritual.

Ali, as I have mentioned earlier, is the main point of contention between Shias and Sunnis. After the coming of the Ayatullahs in Iran, the Arab-Ajam, Saudi-Iranian antipathies began to determine the geo-politics of the Arab world.

In this churning, Israel and Saudi Arabia have, overtime, become strategic partners. Partly as a result of Saudi clout in the region, the Palestinian issue has lost saliency: Shia-Sunni was promoted as the fundamental faultline. At a recent lecture in Oslo, Henry Kissinger said it in so many words: the defining issue in the Arab world is not Palestinian homeland but the Shia-Sunni conflict.

If the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same page on what is increasingly being described as the central faultline in the Arab world, namely the Shia-Sunni divide, what does one make of the Sunni Salafi suicide bomber, sometimes wearing the IS cap, on a relentless spree of murder and mayhem? On whose side is the West? It must be added, in parenthesis, that no suicide bomber has ever been identified as a Shia. Mysteriously, this fact has never been highlighted by the western media, currently under severe pressure to arrest its plummeting credibility.

In the Indian sub continent, the Shia, Sunni, Sufi triangle has its own dynamics. From the Delhi Sultanate right upto the last Moghul, rulers had Central Asian antecedents with a sprinkling of Persian, Shia elite in key positions.

This may have been one enabling factor for most the regional Muslim dynasties being Shia – Bahmani Sultanate, Sharqi, Berar, Bidar, Qutub Shahi, Adil Shahi, Awadh Nawabi, Najafi Nawabs of Bengal, Nawab of Murshidabad and Rampur.

All these came under the cultural influence of Iran which has an abiding respect for its Zoroastrian past. Shias of the subcontinent, like the Parsis, celebrate Navroz, the Persian New Year.

The catchment areas of these Kingdoms and Nawabis were fertile ground for Sufi schools to take root. In Awadh Holi, Basant, Diwali, Krishna, Radha, Rama were incorporated into Sufi songs. Mohsin Kakorvi’s celebration of the Prophet’s birthday invokes Ganga, Jamuna and Krishna. Maulana Hasrat Mohani belonged to a school which respected Krishna as God’s messenger. His numerous poems on Radha and Krishna are high points of Sufi mysticism. All Urdu poets are of a Sufi bent. There is not a single line in the annals of Urdu poetry supportive of the hapless Mullah.

(Saeed Naqvi is a 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)

Will Trump era provide respite to those with destroyed countries?

BY SAEED NAQVI

The procession of breast beating “liberals” doesn’t seem to end, not since Donald Trump eclipsed their most shining star – Hillary Clinton.

True, Hillary would be graceful at the Inaugural Ball.
Favours to none, to all
she smiles extends.
Oft she rejects but
never once offends.

Melania would be a novice by comparison. But here we are talking about aesthetics and class? Why then pull out John Stuart Mill to measure the order just ushered in.

The argument that Hillary would have made a better President because she knew every nook and corner of Washington, White House and Foggy Bottom is precisely why she lost. It set her up as the Establishment which was remote from the people who found solace in a person who did not even look like a politician.

On the “Liberal” yardstick, both falter.

Two images of Hillary are etched on my mind. I had just returned from Syria in early 2012.  I wrote a paper for the Observer Research Foundation explaining why Bashar al Assad was nowhere near falling.

In fact, regime change was simply not possible by cross border terrorism supporting Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda inspired restiveness in places like Hama, Homs and Daraa all being amplified by the Western media as a full blown civil war. This was in 2011-12.

I can never forget some frames. Hillary Clinton comes into focus, repeatedly, with an imperious wave of the hand: “Get out of the way Assad” and “Stop butchering your own people”.

The second image of Hillary concerns Libya. Anybody with even an elementary knowledge of ground realities in Libya knew how the British and other Western intelligence had with great diligence stoked an insurgency. The matter had been discussed in British Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron had a series of skirmishes with his army chief Gen. David Richard on the Libyan misadventure.

Americans entered the Libyan drama late, but, being Americans, they chose to take the credit. A front page cartoon in a European newspaper shows a fire in the distance. In the foreground is Uncle Sam, looking like a butler, waiting outside a garden umbrella where some European grandees are sipping campari. One of them snaps his fingers: “go put out that fire”.

That is when Hillary embarked on the mission. The indelible image she left on my mind was a split TV screen. One half of the screen is Qaddafi being sodomized by a knife; on the other is a triumphant Hillary shrugging her shoulders: “I came; I saw and he died.” Never will there be a more macabre play on “Vini, Vidi, Vici”.

Where is the great “liberal” spirit seering through all of this?

Why then are the “liberals” everywhere beating their breasts at her defeat? Do they see Trump as “illiberal” by comparison?

The two images of Hillary’s involvement with Syria and Libya would probably be justified by falling back on the classical Wilsonian approach. After the victory in the First World War, neither Britain, France or other allies quite envisioned the peace settlement the way Wilson did. After armistice, Woodrow Wilson began to draft in his mind a plan for a “just democracy throughout the world”. For democracy and freedom to be secure in the United States, the sapling will have to be nurtured everywhere. Like these moral values, wealth too would accompany good governance and enterprise as part of God’s plan.

Liberal ideals would spread gradually almost by imitation. It can be argued that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was also, in large part, by imitation. But in both, Syria and Libya, the Liberal argument would have to be contrived, that it was important to defeat the two tyrants who were brutalizing their own people. Woodrow Wilson envisioned the expansion of the Liberal ideal by example and gentle persuasion. He never envisaged a post World War II American pre eminence on a scale where Judge, jury, executioner and the dispenser of information would all be one and the same.

Now consider the casualty figures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen – a total of over a million dead and 15 million displaced. The wars begun by George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz were continued by Barack Obama. He simply could not dismount. What liberal ideal is involved in these unspeakable horrors?

Remember Obama had promised to shut Guantanamo Bay as soon as he entered the Oval office. Every time he tried, he found himself glaring at an intelligence file for Eyes Only. An unnerved Obama backed away.

That is the kind of turf the Intelligence Community is obstinately holding onto in its continuing battle with the Trump White House.

That the establishment, media and the intelligence community are out to embarrass Trump on the legitimacy of his election is not without its irony. George W Bush too had stolen the 2001 election in Florida. But there is a difference. The establishment was on his side then.

The American liberals we learnt to revere in our school was Clarence Darrow, Ed Murrow and writers like Arthur Miller with their gaze of irony on the American Dream.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalization was marketed as unbridled capitalism, breeding crony capitalism everywhere. The world has flinched from that world order. Brexit and Trump are a consequence. We are transiting from one world order to the other. Millions will view the transition with hope. Liberals should have these multitudes in their ken too.

(Saeed Naqvi is a 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)

Declassified docs: Soviet Penetration Program in India

An intelligence assessment report of the Central Intelligence Agency dated December 1985 gives an insight into the deep penetration the Soviets had in India during that time.

The agency’s document was declassified partially and a sanitized copy of it was approved for release in December 2011.

Here are some of the interesting insights from the document:

1. Through a wide range of overt and covert activities conducted during the last three decades, the Soviets have built up substantial influence capabilities in India…..we believe that Moscow has undertaken activities to penetrate virtually every sector of Indian society.

2. The Soviets enjoy nearly unfettered access to the pages of Indian newspapers, largely through the efforts of the Soviet Information Department……Moscow overtly and covertly placed more than 160,000 items (original articles plus replays) in the Indian press. Access to Press Trust of India, the largest English language news service, has become so automatic that some Soviet officials have come to call it “Press TASS of India”.

3. The Press Section of the Soviet Embassy in New Delhi is a KGB operation that specializes in fast-breaking disinformation campaigns, principally targeted against the United States.

4. Soviet Information Department in New Delhi covertly finances the publishing of books in India and distributes some 25 million magazine, book, and pamphlets a year.

5. Soviets are deeply involved in the Indian political process through covert contributions to the treasuries of political parties as well as to individual politicians. The Soviets direct most of their funds to the ruling Congress-I party. Moscow also funds several opposition parties, including the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India/Marxist (CPI/M).

6. Soviets provide funding to Congress-I party coffers through kickback arrangements with Indian businesses. Although precise estimates of total Soviet funding are not available. Contributions are substantial.

7. Soviet funding reaches the two Communist parties, the CPI and the CPI/M through a combination of kickback schemes, normal business transactions, and direct cash payments. The Soviets have also devised several special methods to fund the CPI and its associated organizations.

The report also goes on to detail the Soviet funding mechanism of these political parties. It also lists a host of other activities that Soviets did to gain influence in India. Full report below:

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Ponzi schemes and alleged Sahara payoffs

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

I. Why is the Central Government Not Addressing the loss of 2 lakh crores in Ponzi Schemes incurred by ten crores depositors living at the Margin?

II. Why is Sahara the only Ponzi scheme that is still in business?

III. Why has SEBI refunded only Rs. 54.43 crores in four years to 11,956 depositors (Annual Report 15-16) when the amount deposited with SEBI is Rs. 14,000 crores and around 2.2 crores depositors were duped by Sahara?

IV. Are the Alleged Sahara payoffs entries true or are they being used to blackmail those at the helm?

V. Either way the allegation of corruption in the case of Sahara needs to be Investigated, more so when it is not true!

The author of the article, having failed in his attempt to intervene in the  Sahara case (Civil Appeal NO. 9813 and 9833 OF 2011) due to lack of locus, and having drafted the pending PIL (Writ Petition <Civil> 928 of 2013) filed by Humanity Salt Lake on Ponzi schemes with particular reference to Saradha and Rose Valley, has sufficiently researched the subject-matter to explain as to why the Ponzi schemes successfully flourished for so long, what was the nature of  violation of law, why paying protection money as bribes was a part of the business expenses, and most importantly why the ten crores marginal depositors who have lost two lakh crores will not recover their money in spite these companies having assets.

Amid the controversy of the Sahara payoffs and the arrest of TMC MPs, the question to be asked is not how much pay offs were made to whom for the “smooth functioning of the Ponzi scheme” (as stated by Enforcement Directorate) but is it because of these pay offs that the poor and hapless savers will never recover their life time savings aggregating 2 lakh crores? Do we, the relatively well off, not owe a duty to these ten crore poor to recover their 2 lakh crore money that has been illegally scammed? In most cases, it represents their entire life time savings. Forget the optics and the drama of demonetization and the enriching of each Indian through the black money stashed abroad, this was their own money dammit! (Pardon the language). Has there been a bigger scam in the land of scams? Does the nation have a conscience? But first the basics of the Ponzi scheme.

What is the Ponzi scheme?

A Ponzi scheme is one in which the deposits are actively solicited from the public through commission agents and as the current deposits received from the gullible public are far more than the payments to be made on past deposits, this excess deposit is treated by the promoters of the Ponzi scheme as their own money.

For example, in the case of PACL the deposits grew from Rs. 800 crores to more than Rs. 49,000 crores over a period of 12 years due to lack of oversight of the authorities and delays involving the Courts, and this Rs. 49,000 crores amount became the scam amount when the authorities were belatedly forced to put an end to the Ponzi scam. All the money was diverted by the promoters for personal use. The way the legal proceedings were delayed at various levels which in turn gave breathing space to PACL to grow their deposits phenomenally by thousands of crores is another scam, but then that is beside the point.

Why were these Ponzi scams successful in India?

The main reason for the Ponzi scheme being successful was the absence of the banking industry in rural areas and lack of financial inclusion for the low-income daily wage earners in urban areas along with the lack of oversight by the regulatory authorities. The Ponzi companies provided to the wage earner and the unbanked gullible poor depositor easy accessibility to para banking service with doorstep service provided by deposit agents of Ponzi companies.

This absence of easy accessibility to the banking industry led to the unscrupulous elements exploiting the opportunity by spreading their tentacles in every nook and corner of the country – villages and semi urban areas – by appointing deposit agents from the local community and paying them handsome commissions. It is significant to note the Ponzi companies did not flourish in the three Southern states where there was better administration and larger penetration of banks in the rural areas.

Number of people whose savings has been wiped out:

Most of the approximately 10 crores of low income people have lost their entire savings to these Ponzi companies. In the case of Sahara, the number involved is 2.2 crores and in the case of Pearl group the number of depositors is around 4.63 crores. There were other 300 large and small Ponzi companies like Rose Valley and Saradha, operating in the country in West Bengal, Orissa, Assam and Bihar which account for the remaining three crores of depositors.

Amount of money involved:

The largest Ponzi scam is not Sahara but the lesser known Pearl group of companies known as PACL. The amount involved for the Pearl group is Rs. 49,000 crores while the amount involved in Sahara group is over Rs. 30,000 crores. The Rose Valley scam is said to be a worth another Rs. 20,000 crores. If all the other Ponzi schemes and collective investment schemes numbering more than 300 are considered, the principal and the interest due, which has been misappropriated by these Ponzi companies, is around a staggering Rs. 2,00,000 crores.

Is it the largest and the worst money scam of the country?

Yes, it is. Around ten crore people have been cheated of their life-time savings aggregating 2 lakh crore. It is not the government but the poor who have been scammed. Does this country have a conscience and a Will to make amends? (Sorry, for sounding like a Gas-swami!)

Difference between Bank and Ponzi scheme:

The Ponzi schemes were operating like a bank without having any of the responsibilities and the safeguards that the banks have. They did not provide for SLR or CRR. They did not have to adhere to credit deposit ratio norms or to capital adequacy norms. Most important they were not subject to any lending norms let alone priority lending norms. There were neither subject to multiple rigorous audits. These companies were free to do whatever they liked with the deposit of the victims of the Ponzi scheme. Around 4% was paid to the deposit agents which was less than the salary bill of the Banks. The rest of the money was siphoned away as commissions, loans to sister companies and investment through benami companies. A small part was also spent on buying the silence of the powers that be.

What is the violation of law?

All these companies which are in the business of misappropriating the savings of the marginal saver are in breach of section 3 of the Company Deposit Rules 1975 made under section 58 A of the Companies Act which prohibits all companies from accepting deposits which are unsecured instruments (debentures or otherwise) for more than 10% of their net worth. The law has a rationale in that an entity should not borrow beyond its capacity to repay and innocent savers should not be exploited by unscrupulous elements. The Rules were framed in 1975.

Violation of 80 to 1600 times the permissible limit went unnoticed by ROC and Serious Fraud Department:

The omission on part of the law enforcers to enforce the law, lies at the root of the scam and companies have been allowed to collect deposits 80 to 1600 times the permissible limits. This omission was deliberate and the concerned officers are far more accountable than the politicians belonging to  Trinamool Congress.

In the case of one Sahara group company, Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Limited (SIRECL), the balance sheet of the Company for the year ended 30/6/11 shows the paid up capital and reserves of Rs. 2,325 crores. Hence the permissible limit for the company was Rs. 230 crores. However, deposits of Rs. 19,000 crores were raised as unsecured debenture. This deposit exceeds the limit by a whopping Rs. 18,770 crores which is more than 80 times the permissible limit.

In the case of PACL, the Company’s balance sheet for the year ending 31/03/2011 shows Rs. 235,508,150,280 as costumer advance. This money is nothing but unsecured deposit though called customer advance. According to the same balance sheet the paid up capital of the company on 31/3/11 was Rs. 40.1 crores and reserve & surplus was Rs 117.4 crores. Thus the total paid up capital plus reserve capital was Rs 157.6 crores only and the company was permitted to accept deposits of Rs. 16 crore only. The company PACL India Ltd. had collected/accepted the deposit to the tune of rupees Rs. 23,550 crores. This permissible limit of 10% under the Act has been exceeded by more than 1600 times.

This violation was going on for decades and yet the ROCs, Income Tax, RBI and SEBI did not act.

Had it not been for the WTM of SEBI and Hon’ble justice J S Khehar (as he was then) the scam would not have been brought out in the open. Both were criticized for their brave acts. The former by Sahara and the SEBI chief U K Sinha and the latter by Sahara lawyers which led to his recusing himself from hearing the matter further. (‘Should we be hearing this case,’ the opening famous lines of the 207-page judgment). In fact, he had reportedly directed the Registry not to put any matter related to Sahara before him! (Legal India 15/5/14)

Criminal Liability under Companies Act

Under 58-A (6) (b) of the Companies Act (old) if the overall collection of deposit beyond the permissible limit is punishable by five years’ imprisonment. Why has this clause not been enforced against any of the Ponzi companies? This shows that the government is complicit in allowing these Ponzi companies to cheat the 10 crore marginal depositors.

Why despite the bribes, commissions, diversion of funds abroad there are sufficient assets to pay back the depositors.

In most cases after diverting the cash for the purpose mentioned above, around 50% of the money was invested in land, real estate, hotels, and real estate development etc. These appreciated over a period of time and made up for the losses incurred in bribes, commissions, investments abroad and lavish lifestyle. Thus, there is sufficient asset to pay back the hapless depositor as the assets can be easily traced. However, it is more important to identify the depositors.

Protection money part of expenses is paid to continue the fraud

The entire Ponzi business is based on continuing the fraud of misappropriating the hard-earned deposits of the marginalised sections of society. If the violations of laws are grave, then so are the earnings. It is money for jam as crores of money are collected each day without any concern that the amount is to be returned.

Paying protection money to politicians, political parties and bureaucracy is a part of expense of the Ponzi business so that their activities are not inquired into. This protection money is a legitimate expense of an illegitimate business. It is for this reason that these Ponzi schemes have continued for decades and would have continued for a longer period had it not been for the honesty and the courage of Dr KM Abraham, erstwhile member of SEBI who wrote the Sahara order and Hon’ble Justice J S Khehar (as he was then) who upheld the order and how! However, neither of them went into the violation of the Companies Act as the same was not the issue before them.

Are the entries of bribes in Sahara computer/records true?

As stated above donations to political parties is protection money for all the Ponzi companies. It is routine. After all what is Rs. 100 crores when the deposit base is over Rs. 30,000 crores. Peanuts! But whether the amount alleged to have been paid to then Gujarat Chief Minister was a future investment or was a blackmailing entry is a different matter.

It is not a coincidence that most of the big Ponzi operators are also in the media business and involved in sponsoring sports? The former gives them blackmailing power and the latter is an advertising expense. They are also large advertisers in the media and buy their silence. At least Sahara was and continues to be.

Sahara, the only Ponzi still in business

Despite the Sahara Chief having spent substantial period in prison, it is the only Ponzi company that is carrying on business as usual by metaphorizing its business model, as rightly predicted by Dr K M Abraham of SEBI while alerting other regulators in his order. The following quote of a newspaper report from the order of SEBI has come true: ‘Sahara agents will now peddle several new investment schemes to raise money under the name Sahara Credit Co-Operative Society. The society has its headquarters and registered office in Sahara India Bhawan, Lucknow, where most Sahara group entities are based.’

Its insurance and its media businesses are intact, a large part of the deposits having been converted into co-operative deposit. It is business as usual.

Meagre amounts of Rs. 55 crores from Rs. 14,000 crores paid to depositors by SEBI in the Sahara Scam:

The Apex Court in 2012 had ordered the refund of the scammed money to the depositors and for SEBI to supervise it. It also appointed a former Justice of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to oversee the refund. What happened? In spite of SEBI receiving Rs. 14,000 crores (with interest on money deposited), only 11596 depositors out of 2.2 crore depositors have received Rs. 54.43 crores (refer SEBI annual report for 15-16) out of this Rs. 14,000 crores in last 4 years.

The low refund figure is because SEBI wants immaculate documentary proof from the illiterate gullible depositors. These were never given to the duped depositor! If the illiterate investor could prove his identity and the deposit would he be depositing his money with Sahara?

At another level one suspects that SEBI chief too is hand in glove with the promoters of Sahara (Refer to the letter written by the then WTM of SEBI, who wrote the Sahara order, to the then PM) and is out to reinforce Sahara’s contention that they have paid the depositors!

Allegations of bribes paid to the Prime Minister:

While there is much in what the Hon’ble CJI says that no document of Sahara can be trusted as there are very few who would know more about the character of Sahara than he does. After all, he had spent months hearing their lawyers before recusing himself!

But then that precisely is the point and why the allegation based on documents should be investigated. Not because they may or may not be true but because the good name of the Prime Minister needs to be cleared in a scam involving a company which is the mother of all scams. Why should the name of the PM be sullied by Sahara?

The fact that Sahara is the only functioning Ponzi scheme, the fact that its insurance and media businesses are flourishing, the fact that its assets are intact and no one is bidding for it, the fact that refunds of only Rs. 55 crores to 12,000 out of 2.3 crore depositors have been made in four years by SEBI, the fact that CBI has not arrested a single politician in this flourishing Ponzi scam, the fact that the neither the Serious Fraud Office not the Registrar of Companies have applied section 3 of the Deposit Rules and taken action under section 58 A (6) (b) of the old Companies Act providing for 5 years imprisonment and more recently the fact that the Settlement Commission has passed a very lenient order strikes at the very credibility of various institutions, shows that Sahara continues to be a favoured group.

Surely the impression that these failures of various government agencies are because of Sahara having falsified documents to falsely implicate the Prime Minister needs to be brought out in the open as the institution and the office of the Prime Minister is far more important than a powerful Ponzi company out to destroy the credibility of the Prime Minister.

Use 120B and 420 of the IPC against the deposit agents and the employees of the Ponzi scheme for refunding the depositor’s money:

The Prime Minister, however, having been accused by a Ponzi company needs to address the much larger tragedy relating to the ten crore marginal depositors losing Rs 2 lakh crores to the Ponzi companies.

Sections 120B and 420 of the IPC has been invoked by the CBI in all the cases of arrest of politicians of TMC, but not against the deposit agents.

It is a fact that accurate details of the depositor’s identity were not recorded and adequate proof of having received deposits were not given by the deposit agents. Most the depositors were gullible illiterate depositors. The agents forced the depositors to renew their deposits or made them do the rounds before refunding a discounted amount.

The Ponzi operators, in turn, never intended to return the bulk of the deposits and therefore found it convenient not to keep proper records so that they could deny the claims of the depositors. It is precisely this trap of the Ponzi operator and the colluding deposit agents that has led to the meagre refund of 55 crores out of Rs. 40,000 crores held by SEBI in the case of Sahara. In the case of PACL, SEBI in its order has abdicated the responsibility of making the refund and left it to the company!

The deposit agents fearing the wrath of the depositors, have united and formed an association to align themselves with the efforts of the depositors to get the refund. There are reports of their getting backdoor entry into the pending PIL referred to above and assuring the depositors that the PIL will get them their refund. Sadly, the present status of the PIL is on implementing future reforms, as suggested by SEBI, to prevent future scams. There is absolutely no concern in the PIL for evolving effective strategies for refunding the money to the depositors who have been duped.

The depositors can be identified by the deposit agents alone. And it is for this reason that section 120B and section 420 should be invoked against them at the district level and the name and the identity of the depositors should be obtained and tallied with the amounts remitted by the deposit agents. It is totally impractical to expect that the semi-literate depositors can approach SEBI and comply with their rigorous procedure to prove their deposit and claim refund.

In fact, the Odissa government has taken the lead in identifying the depositors duped by Ponzi firm Rose Valley Group of Companies to make way for refund of their money. They have passed the Odisha Protection of Interests of Depositors (in Financial Establishments) Act, 2011. In May 2016, the additional district magistrate (ADM), Cuttack, Bibhuti Bhusan Das, issued a notification in different newspapers for identification of duped depositors with a warning of prosecution against those who make false claims. This model along with invoking section 420 against the deposit agents is the only way in which the duped depositors can be identified and paid back their deposits from the seized benami assets of the Ponzi operators. Once behind bars under section 58A of the Companies Act these Ponzi operators will sing like a canary and identify all their assets.

We as a nation owe it as a duty to these hapless ten crore depositors who have lost their life time savings thanks to these Ponzi operators who have bribed their way to immunity.

Will the Prime Minister stand up for these ten crore marginalised Indians and clear his name in the only Ponzi scheme that continues to flourish and in which he is shown to have been paid Rs 55. crores?

The author wants to make it clear that he is not accusing the Prime Minister of having received the bribes but certainly supports investigations on Sahara having allegedly paid bribes in view of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence of the favourable treatment given by various government agencies.

In conclusion, the good name of the Prime Minister needs to be cleared from being associated with these scammers and justice done to the 10 crore marginal depositors who have lost two lakh crores.

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)