Modi must re-engage and shape the historic changes in West Asia


“Jup raha hai aaj maala ek Hindu ki Arab
Barhaman zaade mein shaan e dilbari aisi tau ho
Hikmat e Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki kasam
Mar mitey Islam jispey kafiri aisi to ho”

Arabs are chanting the name of a Hindu,
Just look at the heart winning prince among Brahmins,
Behold the statesmanship of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru,
World of Islam lies at the feet of this non believer, free of sins.

There is a great deal to despair about Nehru’s legacy, but another occasion for that. Here, the poet is spot on, eulogizing India’s first Prime Minister as he led the newly independent nation, charting a course that was more or less equidistant between the power blocs.

In effect New Delhi leaned more towards Moscow because it happened to be geographically nearer home. Also, in the early aftermath of decolonization, socialism, not capitalism, was the fashionable creed. That free enterprise was required as an ingredient in the early stages of nation building was recognized. What was accepted, therefore, was a “mixed” economy.

As leader of the non-aligned and the Afro-Asian bloc, Nehru was more equal than others, even above Gamal Abdel Nasser. The grouping consisted of 52 Muslim countries too. In all of these Nehru and India were respected a notch above the rest – Indian civilization trumped religious differences.

There is an exquisite irony involved in the verse I have translated at the outset: it was written by Raees Amrohvi, a Pakistani. It was composed at an early stage of our relations when a compulsive hostility was not the guiding principle of policy towards each other.

There are several points to note here. Despite the fact that Pakistan was a theocratic, Islamic republic, there was no Pakistani leader Raees could think of and which the Arab world was familiar with. The national movement under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership had boosted Indian prestige way above religious denominations. It is the cobwebs of our minds which have allowed Hindu-Muslim complications to multiply.

Groupings did come up which were hostile to India but these did not derive strength from an Islamic bond. For instance, New Delhi cast a wary glance on the Ankara, Teheran, Islamabad axis. But neither Ataturk’s Turkey nor the Shah’s Iran (or even Ayub Khan’s Pakistan, for that matter) were attached to Islamism. It was an American sponsored axis in the context of the cold war.

It is generally not recognized that Organization of Islamic cooperation was a grouping of pro west Muslim states which, under Western prodding, tried to embarrass New Delhi on issues like Kashmir. This was almost always neutralized by deft diplomatic handling. At the Casablanca summit of the OIC in 1995, Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao allowed Kashmiri leaders like Moulvi Mohammad Farooq to attend the summit. Their attendance was not even noticed by the summiteers.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 caught India in a bind. The departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan caused the spare, Jehadi energy to turn upon Kashmir. Jobless Jehadists also found their way to Egypt, Algeria and beyond. West’s sponsorship of Jehadism in Afghanistan in the 80s is still extracting a heavy price.

American triumphalism after the Cold War expressed itself in the biggest military expedition since the Second World War. Operation Desert Storm in February 1992 was followed by the occupation of Iraq in April 2003. Between these dates was 9/11 leading to the occupation of Afghanistan in November 2001.

These developments were accompanied by saturation TV coverage. The newly created global media beamed images mornings and evenings. The world watched in its drawing rooms the defeat of societies like Afghanistan and Iraq and a relentless targeting of terrorism, with Muslims in primary focus. This became part of 24X7 TV in India as well. Islamophobia infected India too. That is why the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was India’s first communal catastrophe boosted by a global anti Muslim atmosphere.

The altered world situation did warrant a total recasting of foreign policy. But instead of reordering foreign policy according to its lights, New Delhi allowed an impression to grow that it would follow American lead in foreign affairs.

In this frame of mind, New Delhi agreed to the proposition that it would help the US administer the Kurdish north of Iraq. Ships were loaded with military hardware, troops were in readiness to travel to northern Iraq. New Delhi was willing to partner the US in the occupation of Iraq. Yes, it is true.

Only Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee kept his counsel. He was opposed to the expedition and he made his opposition known in his own way. On April 9, 2003 he saw Saddam Hussain’s statue being pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdaus Square. Vajpayee drew a conclusion exactly the opposite from his cabinet. On April 18, he arrived in Srinagar. Remember, after the December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, Indian and Pakistani forces were in a posture of collision. But he surprised everybody by holding out his hand to Pakistan. An awesome power has arisen, he said. All local quarrels must be ended for greater regional cooperation.

Not only was Manmohan Singh not able to demonstrate comparable spine, he turned out to be the most obsequious of all Prime Ministers, even after the unipolar-world-moment had passed.

This is the state of play when Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge. So far he has sketched a balanced design in Foreign Affairs. He must also place West Asia on his radar because this vital part of our near abroad is in rapid change. A new West Asia is emerging. We must engage at the highest level and help shape this change, taking heart from Raees Amrohvi’s optimism many moons ago.

(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)

Media setting up Rahul – Modi contest for TRP ratings


Conventional wisdom being forged by lobbies is veering around to the view that there shall be either a UPA-III or an NDA-II after the 2014 General Elections. In which case why this high decibel clamour for Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidates for the BJP and Congress respectively?

Of course such a facile scenario would simplify matters for the talk show hosts, the TRP hunters: just place faces in those six boxes on the screen and trigger a daily diet of prime time cacophony, as riveting as a street brawl.

The channels miss the point that there is so much else to clarify to their viewers in the run upto the 2014 election that naming of prime ministerial candidates at this juncture may be a trifle premature.

For example, several states have to face the electorate this year, by end November. Please analyze these states. These include four states in the North East, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Delhi.

If the Congress in Delhi, under Sheila Dikshit’s leadership, wins for the fourth term, only a very perverse system would keep her out of higher office. This line of thought will immediately be challenged by Congressmen themselves, in whose ranks ironically we may find Sheila Dikshit too. The Congress principle at this stage is that the first right of refusal for the prime ministerial slot belongs to Rahul Gandhi.

All of this, as I have indicated earlier, is premature for a simple reason: UPA-III entails a coalition. Who the coalition partners will be and what bargains they strike will depend on the hand the electorate deals out to the players at the table.

Shrill demands for Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate is equally premature in an era of coalitions. If the BJP in its deep heart’s core is inclined to field him as its candidate for Prime Minister, the situation will clarify of its own accord when Modi does or does not campaign for his party in the coming state elections.

Modi and Rahul are distinct political entities. Modi is an extrovert who intimidates and repels prospective coalition partners; Rahul, an introvert, is, on current showing, shy of coalitions. This aversion to coalitions is being rationalized as a tactic to wait, even beyond 2019, when the electorate will become so disenchanted with coalitions that it will produce a Parliamentary majority for the Congress. What underpins this enchanting pipe-dream is the purposive manner in which Rahul’s team proposes to build the party brick by brick.

Reconstruction of the party edifice visualizes ruins, like Macho Picho, on which masonry is being undertaken. A more valid image for the Congress in disrepair derives not from architecture but from gynaecology. The caste parties now in play were once inside the Congress womb. How does a weakened mother fight her own children?

The Congress led the nation to independence representing a federation of interests behind a programme for freedom. Purshottam Das Tandon and Abul Kalam Azad were in the same party. During an election in the 1960s, S.K. Patil and Krishna Menon were Congress candidates from separate constituencies in Mumbai. Patil represented big business while Menon was more on the fringe of the Communist Party. Over a period of time, this diversity had to break ranks and find independent political platforms.

Let us not forget, barely twenty years after independence, in the 1967 elections, Indira Gandhi lost power in eight states. A weakened Indira Gandhi, split the Congress in 1969, throwing a cordon of Left of Centre Congressmen around herself and thereby creating a distance from the conservative party bosses in the states.

It was this conservative streak which mingled with the RSS and socialists under the banner of the Bihar movement led by a retired Gandhian, Jay Prakash Narayan. An unnerved Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, and later proceeded to lose the elections.

Before the emergency, the press maintained a balanced, adversarial attitude towards the establishment. The theory was something like this: In a democracy, people elected the government. The government could represent the Centre, Right or Left. The media’s job was to respect the people’s verdict, report objectively, and accord “critical support” to the government elected by the people. The emergency destroyed this balance and the distortion continues.

Political parties which do not ponder this question will have abdicated power and placed it in hands exposed to influences, both within and outside.

(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)

Media lies: Basra fell 17 times says BBC Reporter


My first encounter with Western propaganda was during the Sino-Vietnam war of February 1978.

I was in Beijing as part of the media team which had accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s Minister for External Affairs. Deng Xiaoping, who had warned he would teach Vietnam a lesson, carried out the threat without taking Vajpayee into confidence, although other non-aligned countries like Yugoslavia were informed.

The Indian delegation, faces in the lower mould, cut short what was billed to be a historic visit, and left for home after that mandatory shopping in Hong Kong.

I applied for permission to visit the front. The Chinese promised they would try. Two days later they said a visit to the war front was not possible. I rushed to Bangkok where the ever helpful Abid Hussain (who retired as Ambassador to US) introduced me to a scion of the distinguished Bao Dai family who obtained for me the priceless visa for Hanoi in a jiffy. In Hanoi the all powerful Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Xuan Thuy, arranged for me to be driven to a vantage point on the hill with a commanding view of Lang Son where the most decisive battle of the war was fought. The celebrating, rejoicing soldiers in Lang Son confirmed Vietnam’s victory.

The Indian Express front paged the Lang Son datelined story in which it was clear that Vietnam had won. Ranjit Sethi, who was in our Beijing mission sent me an ecstatic note but Defence Secretary, Sushital Bannerjee, was more cautious. Was I sure of my facts because the Western media was saying quite the opposite?

I countered: “How could the Western media say anything without having covered the war from either of the fronts?” I was the only foreign correspondent in Vietnam. The Chinese had refused.

It was clear the triangular strategic balance Kissinger had sketched, Washington-Beijing-Moscow, was not going to be allowed to be wrecked by the media. The new US ally during the cold war, China, was not going to be exposed to negative publicity for being defeated by a country which had just a few years ago driven the US itself out of Vietnam.

A huge question mark was placed on my Vietnam-victory story which otherwise was a scoop. Even my editor, Sri Mulgaokar was more inclined to accept the Western version than one having been put out by his own reporter. It took years for global conventional wisdom to change: Vietnam had, indeed, won the 1978 war.

The Western attitude of simply ignoring a version not to its liking was effective largely because of considerable indigenous preferential support for the foreigner’s point of view.

Birth of the global media with the CNN’s live coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1992 was gingered up by advances in techniques of media management. Many of us in Baghdad speculated war may not take place because of the American’s post Vietnam aversion to body bags on TV screens.

So, the Anglo American combine took care to hide the body bags “totally from view”. The monopoly of TV coverage was with CNN’s Peter Arnett on the terrace of Al Rashied hotel. By the time of the Intifadas, Bosnian and Serbian wars and occupation of Iraq, BBC World Service too was in full cry.

With each war, the technology for propaganda has been consistently refined, as in Libya and Syria. In Afghanistan and Iraq Al Jazeera exposed the Western media’s lies. Leaders of the free world bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, a fact Ragge Omar, the once star BBC  reporter cannot ever forget. “We reported the fall of Basra 17 times, each time a lie”, says Omar.

By the time of the Libyan and Syrian action, Qatar had made up with Saudi Arabia in solidarity of monarchies. So BBC and CNN tried to minimize damage to their plummeting reputation by quoting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia distortions.

Now comes the scandalous case of the satirical programme Parazit supposedly telecast from Teheran to lampoon the regime. The programme actually beamed from LA, is totally financed by the US government. Go on your youtube and you will find Hillary Clinton being interviewed on Parazit. Indeed, CIA Chief David Petraeus says future wars will be in the Information Space.

What space for a credible media now?

Meanwhile, everyone is catching on, including the Wall Street protestors.

(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)

I&B Ministry issues notices to TV channels

There was a huge uproar and debate in the Indian Parliament last week over a newly launched reality TV show Sach ka Saamna.

According to our politicians, Sach Ka Saamna — an Indian version of internationally acclaimed show Moment of Truth — is a threat to the Indian culture and should be banned.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued a show cause notice to the channel that is airing the show. As the debate about whether Sach ka Saamna is good or bad continues, will the notice to the channel serve any purpose?

Recently, the I&B Ministry was asked in the parliament to provide details of the action taken by the government against channels airing violent and sexually explicit programmes. The facts that emerged out of the answer given my the I&B Minister of State C M Jatuya are interesting.

The I&B Ministry, from 2006 till July 14, 2009, issued 42 notices to various television channels (news and general entertainment) for airing violent and sexually explicit content. The maximum penalty awarded to a channel for airing content that violates the broadcasting laws is a ban of two months.

AXN channel was banned in India from 17.1.2007 to 28.2.2007 for telecasting a programme called World’s Sexiest Advertisements. Similarly, FTV was banned for two months after the order of 29.3.2007 for showing a programme called Midnight Hot.

Apart from this, the most erring channels were asked to do was to run a TV scroll apologising for airing the programme in question. Some of the instances are noted below.

1. IBN7 was served a show cause notice on 28.3.2007 for airing a programme called Kiss Par Rok Nahi. The channel was directed on 14.11.2007 to run a scroll apologising for the same for three days. The matter was then closed.

2. Zee News was also served a notice on 28.3.2007 for airing a programme called Jumma Chumma De De. The channel was directed on 14.11.2007 to run a scroll apologising for the same for three days. The matter was then closed.

Various channels have been repeatedly warned over airing sexually explicit programmes. Some of them are:

MTV: 4

  • For airing a song from the film Zeher
  • Showing a song from an adult film Aashiq Banaya Apne
  • Airing the New Axe Deo advertisement
  • Broadcasting sexually explicit reality TV show named Spiltsvilla

IBN7: 4

  • For airing a programme named Kiss Par Rok Nahi
  • Showing a programme named Kissa Kiss Ka
  • For telecasting a news item about crowd violence in Guwahati and beating of tribal women by men

India TV: 3

  • For using objectionable language on a programme called India Bol
  • Aairing a programme on Jhanvi Kapoor
  • For airing a programme named Ye Bachoo Ka Khel Nahi, which defamed the children

Other channels that received notices include AajTak, Channel V, Color, Discovery, ETV Bangla, Headlines Today, Hungama, India News, Star News, NDTV India, News 24, NE TV, Sahara Samay, Star Plus, Sony Max, Sun TV, UTV Bindaas, VH1, Yo Music,  and Zee Telugu.

BJP’s war within: Yashwant Sinha questions party leadership

The succession war within the Bhartiya Janata Party has intensified as senior leaders are questioning the party’s decision to reward those who should have taken the responsibility for the humiliating defeat in the just concluded Lok Sabha polls.

After Jaswant Singh, another former foreign minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha wrote a letter to the BJP president and blamed the top leadership for ignoring grassroots leaders like him.

“It is difficult to avoid the impression that in the BJP we put a premium on failure. Our reluctance to introspect and introspect comprehensively and openly is unacceptable to a large number of people within the party. So is the rat race for posts,” Sinha wrote in his letter.

Sinha also mentioned in the letter that he is resigning from all the posts of the party and will serve the party as an ordinary worker and an MP from Hazaribagh.

The BJP, meanwhile, has accepted Sinha’s resignation from all the party posts.

Below is the letter Yashwant Sinha has written to the BJP President Rajnath Singh:

Date: June 12, 2009

Dear Rajnathji,

As you are aware, I do not belong to the category of those great leaders who can contest and win elections from anywhere in the country. I have been rooted in one constituency, Hazaribagh, ever since I entered politics.

It is not an easy constituency for me. So as on previous occasions, this time also I had to work very hard to win my seat. Apart from the work that I did in my constituency over the last five years, I spent all of three and a half months since the beginning of January until my election was over on April 16, in my constituency, moving from village to village and persuading people to vote for the party. I am grateful to the voters of Hazaribagh, to my workers and to God Almighty for my win.

My joy at my own victory was, however, short-lived when it became clear that the Party had failed to win the trust of the people of India. The little euphoria which was left also evaporated when I reached Delhi to a cold reception from the leadership here. I had expected that there would be a flurry of activity in Delhi, that the Party office would be abuzz with a series of meetings to review our performance, that the necessary lessons from our defeat would be drawn quickly and remedial steps initiated without loss of time. I was surprised, therefore, when I noticed that nothing of the kind was happening. It was business as usual.

It will be obvious even to a casual observer that this election has thrown up a number of issues which we can ignore only at our peril. These relate to our basic tenets, our policies and programmes, the issues that we raised during elections, the language in which we expressed them, the strategy that we worked our for the elections, the manner in which that strategy was implemented, the campaign style of our leaders, and finally, the faces that we projected.

The media has been quick to draw its own conclusions about our defeat. Many of them are superficial and unsupported by empirical evidence. But some facts stand out.

We have never won a seat in Kerala. We have been wiped out in some marginal States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and most of the North-East. We have drawn a blank in Orissa, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. We have done poorly in Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra and UP. In Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh our performance is below our expectation.

The only States where our performance has been satisfactory are Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Karnataka. What are the reasons for this wide variation?

Similarly, one would like to understand the voting behaviour of the minorities, the first-time voters, women, scheduled castes and tribes, the urban middle class, the government employees and most importantly, the farmers and the industrial workers in this election. Which is the vote bank we have lost? Which is the vote bank we have gained? And finally, an analysis of the factors which helped the Congress Party increase its tally from 145 seats in the last election to 206 in this.

I am sure a detailed review would be instructive and show us the path for the future. At the same time it would also help us establish the principle of accountability in the Party. We failed to carry out a review after our defeat in the last election. I am getting a sinking feeling that once again there is a conspiracy of silence.

We are shying away from pin-pointing our weaknesses and fixing responsibility. We are hoping that time shall heal our wounds. Thus, while one of the one hand, the Party is avoiding a systematic appraisal of its performance, on the other, those who were responsible for the management of the campaign have already made their views public through interviews and articles in the media, drawn their conclusions, apportioned blame and given themselves a clean chit.

Those of us who actually toiled in the field and took all the risk have not even been heard. Advaniji set a fine example of accountability by declining to take up the position of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. It was an eminently appropriate and dignified decision. He was persuaded to continue. So have the others who wanted to take responsibility and resign, it appears as if some people in the party are determined to ensure that the principle of accountability does not prevail so that their own little perch is not disturbed.

Separately, in our anxiety to distribute amongst the few higher mortals in the party whatever goodies were available, we completely disregarded the parliamentary party constitution in the election of the office-bearers of the parliamentary party on May 31.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that in the BJP we put a premium on failure. Our reluctance to introspect and introspect comprehensively and openly is unacceptable to a large number of people within the party. So is the rat race for posts.

If we are a party with a difference, let us set an example in abnegation. If the responsibility is collective, as I have often heard you say, then all of us should jointly share the responsibility for our defeat. Let the party implement its own Kamraj Plan under which all office bearers of the party and the parliamentary party should resign from their posts which should then be filled up through the process of election laid down by our constitution. In order to facilitate this and to establish the principle of collective responsibility, I am making a beginning by submitting my resignation from the post of Vice-President of the party, from the membership of the National Executive of the party and from all positions of responsibility in the party at the national and state level. I shall continue to serve the party as an ordinary worker of the party and as its member in Lok Sabha from Hazaribagh.

In the meanwhile, I hope you will give due consideration to the issues I have raised in this letter. I am endorsing a copy of this letter to all members of the Core Group of the party.

Yashwant Sinha

RSS forms committee to select Advani's successor

Tired of the escalating infighting in the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) over the leadership issue, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has decided to take the matter of deciding the next Leader of Opposition (LOP) into its own hands.

According to sources, the Sangh has formed a committee under the leadership of its senior leader Madan Das Devi to select L K Advani’s successor. Other RSS leaders who are in the committee include Shrikant Joshi, Madhubhai, Suresh Soni, and Indresh Kumar.

The need for forming a committee arose after it looked clear that it would be difficult to maintain the unity of the BJP in the current circumstances where various factions were proposing different names for the post of LOP.

Earlier on Sunday, senior RSS leaders met L K Advani in the presence of BJP President Rajnath Singh and inquired about his choice for the post of LOP. Advani is believed to have given the names of Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj, which sources say, are not widely acceptable in the party circles.

It was then decided that Advani would remain as the Leader of Opposition till a consensus is reached on the name of any leader.

Sources told Canary Trap that the present arrangement suits Rajnath Singh. Singh realises that it is impossible for him to hold the position of party president and LOP at the same time.

According to them, Singh wants Advani to remain as the LOP till the end of 2009. Interestingly, his terms as party president also ends during that period. Singh hopes to succeed Advani as the LOP after that.

Advani is the only leader in the BJP who has held the positions of the party president and the Leader of Opposition at the same time.

Meanwhile, party sources told Canary Trap that in such challenging times a senior and experienced leader like Murli Manohar Joshi is the best bet to lead the party in the Lok Sabha. Joshi has held various senior positions in the party organisation, including the post of party president between 1990-1992.

BJP sources say that Joshi is not preferred by either Advani or Rajnath Singh.

While giving an interview to a news channel after the poll debacle, Joshi targeted Rajnath Singh and said that the party’s ticket distribution could have been “better” and it should have had some Muslim candidates.

Joshi did not even spare Advani when he said “If Advaniji says anything he says it in the interest of party members. He is the most experienced leader in the party. This cannot be criticised if he has taken the responsibility for the loss,” said Joshi.

He further added that the veteran BJP leader is setting a good example by expressing his desire to step down from the post of the Leader of Opposition.

The RSS leaders met Advani in the midst of all this infighting. According to party sources, even the RSS thinks that it would be better if Advani retires now than he does after a year or two as that would not give enough time to the new leader to prepare for the next general elections.

Now all eyes are on the RSS committee which will deliberate on all the aspects and decide the name of the leader who will succeed Advani.

Keep tracking Canary Trap for more such information on the ongoing crisis in the ‘party with a difference’.