Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Decadence, Arab politics and Islamism

Sex, sleaze and sheikhs
By Kanchan Gupta
What does a modern-day sheikh with oodles of money, lots of connections in high places and political immunity do when his mistress flees his harem after sharing his bed for three years? In times gone by, the jilted sheikh would have had the anatomically deficient keeper of the harem decapitated, summoned his chief spy and ordered him to track down the woman, drag her to his court and have her flogged before doing other unspeakable things to her, for instance, burying her neck-deep in the desert and letting loose scorpions to feed on her pretty face.

But such delights are denied to the rich and the famous Arabs who hold court in today’s Arabia and count their money in billions of dollars. So, Hisham Talaat Moustafa, whose personal wealth is believed to be more than $ 6 billion, earned through real estate projects, head of the awesome Talaat Moustafa Group spanning across Arab countries, decided to settle for something more discreet but equally deadly after his mistress, the stunningly beautiful, green-eyed Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim, left him some months ago. He ordered a contract killing.

The man chosen for the job was Mohsen el-Sukkary, chief of security at the opulent Four Seasons Hotel at the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, jointly owned by Hisham Talat Moustafa and Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Walid Bin Talal. Sukkary, a former member of the Egyptian security services, probably the mukhabarat, was trained for the task. The fee was settled at $ 2 million, a mind-boggling amount for a former Government employee who perhaps retired with a salary of 400 Egyptian pounds, which would be less than Rs 4,000.

Sukkary tracked Suzanne Tamim to London, but could not accomplish his mission in that city. He then trailed her to Dubai, where she had purchased a luxury apartment in the plush Marina Complex. On July 28, Sukkary, posing as an employee of the agency from whom Suzanne Tamim had purchased the property, entered her apartment and slit her throat. He casually walked out of the complex, dumped his clothes in a garbage bin and took a flight to Cairo.

Meanwhile in Dubai, the police went through the footage of the security camera recording, zeroed in on Sukkary, found the discarded bloodstained clothes, ran a DNA test and despatched a team to Cairo, armed with incontrovertible evidence. Moustafa had overlooked the fact that mukhabarat thugs have brawn but lack brains. Sukkary had mistakenly thought that as in Cairo, security cameras are no more than non-functional gadgets meant to impress people.

Confronted with the evidence, Egyptian officials assisted the Dubai police to arrest Sukkary in late August. Suzanne Tamim was a popular singer and the scandal too big to be suppressed. The man, after getting a taste of what he had meted out to others while still in the mukhabarat, sang like a canary. The Dubai police wanted to arrest Moustafa. The Egyptian officials baulked.

IN Egypt, businessmen in the big league are treated with kid gloves. They have direct access to the presidential palace and their deals are cleared only after, or so it is believed, President Hosni Mubarak’s elder son, Alaa, gives his approval. That assent is not an act of charity and political protection is not a one-night affair.

In Moustafa’s case, the story did not end there. As a member of the ruling National Democratic Party’s Supreme Policies Council and deputy chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee of the Shura Council, the upper House of Egypt’s Parliament, he not only enjoyed political immunity but close proximity to Gamal Mubarak, younger son of Hosni Mubarak and heir apparent to the throne his father has occupied for close to 28 years.

But the Dubai police were unrelenting. The United Arab Emirates, having embarked on a drive to crack down on crime and corruption, wanted to make an example of this case. The Arab media was running lurid stories. The palace did a quick calculation and came to the conclusion that Moustafa was dispensable, if only to shore up Hosni Mubarak’s fading image and deprive the Muslim Brotherhood of yet another stick to beat the regime with.

And so Moustafa was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, arrested and packed off to jail. He has been charged with a crime that could fetch him the death sentence. Even if he were to get off with a lesser punishment, he has been ruined for life – the political clout and prestige he enjoyed will never be his again.

This is not the first time that the high and mighty have been felled by the palace. When I was working in Cairo a few years ago, there was a similar sex and sleaze scandal involving Hossam Aboul Fotouh, multi-billionaire importer of luxury cars. He had used his connections with Alaa and the palace to secure loans from Banque de Caire, which he of course did not bother to pay back; there were other rip-offs, apart from gargantuan tax evasion.

Spicy stories of his corrupt ways and links with the Mubarak clan began to appear in newspapers over which the Government had no control. When the scandal could not be covered up despite the best efforts of the presidency, Fotouh was arrested. But that did not silence the Government’s critics, most of them Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers.

So, to discredit Fotouh and distract attention from his financial misdemeanours, the mukhabarat leaked a tape in the market, of which there was greater demand than copies could be made. It showed Fotouh having torrid sex with famous belly dancer Dina in his villa at upmarket Maadi. Cairenes could not have enough of the sleaze, the real story disappeared from the front pages, the Mubarak clan was spared criticism, and Fotouh’s conviction a couple of years later went almost unnoticed, as did the virtual collapse of Banque de Caire.

THE larger story that emerges from the sleazy details of the scandals involving powerful business barons like Moustafa and Fotouh is one of how Governments function in Arab countries, of the culture of wasta without which survival is almost impossible, leave alone success, and the strained relationship between the palace, or the elite, and the street, the masses. This larger story also explains why Islamism is gaining ground in Arab countries where Islamists view the decadence of the rich and the corrupt ways of the powerful with scornful disdain. When they preach “Islam is the solution”, the seething masses are more than willing to believe them.

Across the Maghreb and the Mashreq, with Egypt straddling the divide, the culture of wasta is the prevalent force: It is not material what or who you are; what is important is whom you know. If you face a problem or a run-in with the authorities, unless you know somebody who knows somebody powerful who knows somebody very powerful, you are in real trouble.

And if you are an entrepreneur or a trader or an investor, you begin with getting your wasta network in place. Once that is done, the right connections are established, nothing or nobody can stop you. And, if the right connections give you access to the presidents, kings, sheikhs and emirs, or their progeny or even their second cousins twice removed, you can soar high. This explains the success of Moustafa and Fotouh, and many others like them who form the wafer thin upper crust of Arab society.

In sprawling countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Moustafas and the Fotouhs remain unseen, shadowy figures who are talked about in hushed tones in smoke-filled cafes. Their dalliances with actresses, singers and belly dancers are the subject of public gossip and much envy, even in staid Saudi Arabia.

The mutaween try to regulate, albeit with decreasing success and at times with horrifying results, the sexual habits and preferences of men and women. During one of my visits to Jeddah, a friend told me how the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which is the official name of the Saudi religious police, has managed to achieve the opposite.

The mutaween may delight in its power to enforce shari’ah, which includes forcing people to pray and businesses to shut down five times a day, but its clout does not extend beyond Saudi Arabia. The princes and their acolytes would earlier head for Monaco, the French Riviera and the Côte d’Azur to live the high life of decadence. The last of the rich still haunt these places; the new rich head for Dubai; those who have fallen on bad days find solace in Bangkok and Manila.

THE glittering, shimmering skyline of Dubai announces the emergence of this former sleepy fishing village, from where dhows would leave for Indian shores laden with contraband, as a formidable power city. Here luxury is defined by million-dollar hotel suites, towering chrome-and-glass skyscrapers where billion-dollar deals are signed by the minute, and fabulous villas, which have jewel-encrusted taps and gold-plated commodes, built on land reclaimed from the sea, with manicured lawns that require a constant drizzle of imported water that is otherwise sold in bottles for human consumption.

After darkness descends and the nightclubs come alive, the Moustafas and the Fotouhs of Arab countries, along with Dubai’s resident Arab elite, the people who work the levers of political power and economic clout, make a crass display of their wealth and might. Hundred thousand dollar bottles of Dom Perignon Pink Gold are uncorked for no other purpose than to spray giggling women attired in haute couture.

This is a lifestyle that Dubai’s authorities first promoted with great enthusiasm. They are now trying to curb it with equal zeal. The last thing the UAE wants is the emergence of radical Islamism on its soil; this is not an impossibility, with the expanding underclass becoming increasingly resentful of the decadent ways of those with wasta – and cash. Dubai is not the UAE.

Hence the crackdown on crime and the pursuit of criminals as powerful and well-connected as Moustafa. Hence also the permission accorded by the Mubarak regime: Since 2005, there has been a surge in the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity as Egyptians, 80 per cent of whom belong to the low-income group and 40 per cent are estimated to be living below the poverty line, discover merit in Hassan al-Banna’s denunciation of the decadent ways of the monarchy and the pashas that have resurfaced to taunt the deprived in a more deplorable form, this time as a powerful mix of sleaze, money and politics, with doses of Western ‘modernism’.

The Arab street is deeply religious. The people are rooted in tradition and culture of which they are fiercely proud. There is also an admirable heightened sense of haram that pits the street against the palace, which is perceived as having lost its moral compass, thus paving the way for what one writer has described as “Western political machinations… (that) have parallels in the social and cultural sphere”.

The West, most notably the US, is seen, and increasingly so, by the Arab street as conspiring with the Arab palace to “strip the nation of its ‘identity and values’, to steer people away from religion and to ‘destroy the Muslim family’.”
Perception and reality may not match, but in the end it is perception that prevails over reality, more so in a society driven by intrigue and unprepared, if not unwilling, to cope with the 21st century. The Arab palace is guilty of keeping the Arab street poor and poorly educated to perpetuate the rule of a corrupt and dissolute elite.

The heat of the blowback has begun to singe the worn-out fabric of social stability. The Sunni Arab palace now faces the spectre of radical Islam feting the Hizbullah and holding up Shia Iran as a desirable model of Islamic republicanism.

HASSAN al-Banna had a simple, faith-based solution to the moral, social and political crisis of his time: “Allah is our objective, the Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations”. That was in 1928.

Two decades later, Sayyid Qutb, appalled by the “deviant chaos and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures and awful sins”, seconded the views of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, urging the use of “physical power and jihad for abolishing the organisations and authorities of the jahili system”. Seven years ago this month, Mohammed Atta, by all accounts a good boy from a good middle-class class Cairo family, flew a hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Center.

It is this revulsion with a system that promotes a few by suppressing the aspirations of the many, a system that is common to all Arab countries, barring perhaps Jordan – where King Abdullah has been making earnest attempts with limited success to break with the past – the culture of wasta that frustrates those who do not know anybody who knows somebody powerful who knows somebody very powerful that contributed to the making of Ayman al-Zawahiri as the second-in-command of Al Qaeda, the most trusted confidant of Osama bin Laden.

Together they have forged a theme that drives political Islam today and finds a resonance from the Maghreb to the Mashreq among the poor and the poorly educated: Oust decadent regimes, cleanse Arabia of West’s moral rot (symbolised by the Moustafas, the Fotouhs and their sugar daddies) and restore the primacy of Islam as a guarantor of equality and justice.

Hosni Mubarak, for all his perceived faults a ‘secularist’ in the Nasser mould, a ‘pragmatist’ like Anwar Sadat, and a ‘modernist’ who believes democracy must follow development, as is Gamal waiting to take over from his father, can hear the resonance in Egypt. He has banned religious parties and cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood. He has introduced political reforms and made elections a participatory process. But that has not halted the march of Islamism.

It is possible that he – more likely it is Gamal -- is now trying to cleanse the system and rid it of parasites like Moustafa. That would explain the powerful businessman’s fall from grace for a crime that would have raised no more than a twitter of mild rebuke in the not-too-distant past.

The pharaohs of Egypt rarely spoke although scribes made copious records on papyrus. They interpreted the momentary raising of eyebrows, the fleeting scowl, the pursing of lips and the casual flick of the wrist. The smallest gesture was the highest command.

For all we know, the reigning pharaoh of Egypt has made his gesture.

Sunday Pioneer, September 14, 2008

Pakistani perfidy dawns on US

There is now incontrovertible evidence of ISI's involvement in terrorism in Afghanistan

Washington begins to realise real face of Islamabad. Or is it an illusion?
There has been a spate of damning reports about Pakistan this past week, each one of them reinforcing the perception, long held in India but only now beginning to dawn upon the Americans, that there is a wide gulf which separates Islamabad’s word from its deed. The New York Times has informed us that on July 7 US President George W Bush secretly instructed the American special forces in Afghanistan to launch ground assaults inside Pakistan ‘without the prior consent’ of that country’s Government. The decision to enhance the American response to the hit-and-run tactics of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters with camps on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line from ‘hot pursuit’ to ‘ground assault’ follows Washington’s grim realisation that the war on terror, seven years after being launched, is going nowhere.
The Taliban may have been neutralised in Iraq and the surge in the deployment of American troops may have fetched a sort of peace in Saddam land with Shia radicals calling a temporary truce with Sunni insurgents, but the Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to confound and frustrate the mighty American military in the mountainous, inhospitable terrain of Afghanistan, just as the straw-hat clad Vietcong had in the paddy fields of Vietnam. Shifting tribal loyalties and mounting collateral damage have only made the task that much more difficult for American and Nato troops in Afghanistan. Bodybags and war casualties have virtually stopped arriving in the US from Iraq, but the number of those arriving from Afghanistan has increased by leaps and bounds.
As if this were not bad enough, there is now unimpeachable evidence to show that Pakistan has been far less than honest in reporting its contribution to the war on terror. The ISI has been assiduously pursuing its pernicious policy of promoting the Taliban and Al Qaeda with the purpose of regaining what it lost after 9/11: Strategic depth through a puppet regime in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai has been making this point for the past couple of years, but the Bush Administration chose to ignore his complaints in the mistaken belief that American interests were better served by pandering to Gen Pervez Musharraf. In a sense, if there was deceit in Pakistan’s actions, there was equal deceit in America’s response. Now that American blood is being shed, Mr Bush has decided to change his policy. It is possible that the US Army has let it be known that Washington cannot continue to pamper Islamabad at the cost of American soldiers. Last Wednesday’s statement to the House Armed Services Committee by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, reflects the hardening of Pentagon’s views.
Just to let Pakistan know what it is getting into by playing a double game, US forces have begun to make their gunpower felt in the frontier tribal areas. This has predictably led to a hue and cry about Pakistan’s sovereignty being violated and revived the mullahs’ demand that there should be no cooperation with the Americans in what they insist is a ‘war on Islam’. Faith is a convenient cover for jihadi fervour. Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is not known to make too many statements or public appearances, has indulged in sabre-rattling of the variety meant to enthuse demoralised soldiers. President Asif Ali Zardari, who even in his wildest imagination couldn’t have dreamt of becoming the head of state till last December’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto changed the course of politics and opened new vistas of opportunity for a person till recently reviled as ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’, has also made the right threatening noises. But he knows, more than anybody else, that of the three ‘A’s that guide Pakistan’s destiny — Allah, Army and America — the third should not be made to feel cross and upset.
But all this is unlikely to bring about any tectonic shift in Pakistan’s policy of exporting terror to further its foreign policy and strategic objectives. The ISI’s powers remain uncurbed and the ‘state within the state’ has substantial support in the military to browbeat the political leadership and the civilian Government. In any event, the PPP Government, which is in office but clearly not in power, is too effete to tell the ISI and its sponsors in Rawalpindi where they get off. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani tried to tame the ISI and make it accountable to the political leadership but, tail firmly between his legs, had to beat a hasty retreat.
It is unlikely Gen Kayani, who has served as Director- General of the ISI, will try to rein in the rogue ‘state within the state’. On the contrary, there is now evidence which suggests that he has been fully aware of, if not a complicit partner in, the ISI’s activities in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The suicide bomber who wreaked havoc on July 7, killing two mission officers, two security guards and 54 Afghans, was a Pakistani from Manshera; the explosives were from the Pakistan Ordnance Factory in Wah. All this could not have happened without Gen Kayani’s knowledge — information may be highly restricted in Pakistan, but it does flow to the right people at the right time.
For the moment, American action is likely to force the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to stay put in their camps and the ISI to keep a low profile. But sooner than later, it will be back to business as usual. Mr Bush, in the dying days of his presidency, can only push the envelope thus far and no further; his successor will have to take a call on how to deal with the festering problem called Pakistan. Mr Barack Obama has been particularly harsh in berating Islamabad and shown little or no circumspection while threatening tough action. Indeed, while the Bush Administration has tried to gloss over the siphoning of American military aid running into billions of dollars by the Pakistani Army as revealed by US oversight and audit reports, Mr Obama has gone on record to suggest that the aid and assistance meant for fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda are being diverted to fuel Pakistan’s military ambitions against India.
It is likely that Mr Bush’s successor will be less well disposed towards Pakistan. But there is a small, niggling doubt. Previous US Administrations that have fulminated against Pakistani perfidy and belligerence have gone on to mollycoddle those in power, whether in civvies or in khaki. Let us also not forget that the CIA has happily collaborated with the ISI in the past and will do so again if it serves America’s interests at that moment.

Coffee Break / Sunday Pioneer / Septemebr 14, 2008

Thursday, September 04, 2008

PM misled India on nuclear deal

Do it my way... you are either with us or against us!
The PM stands diminished
As Thursday’s meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna concluded without a ‘consensus’ on accepting the redrafted American proposal for waiving the rules that prohibit trade in nuclear technology and fuel with India, Mr William Burns, the US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, whose services have been requisitioned by Washington to convince recalcitrant countries that wisdom lies in enabling the formal conclusion of the 123 Agreement, put a risible spin on continuing objections voiced by Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. “I believe we are making steady progress in this process and we will continue to make progress,” he told mediapersons, among them gullible journalists representing Indian newspapers and television channels.
It is anybody’s guess as to whether the nay-sayers in the NSG will eventually accept the revised US draft and settle for the considerable concessions that have been made to appease non-proliferation hawks and curtail India’s sovereign right to decide its nuclear policy, including its strategic deterrence component. Indeed, it would be a folly to under-estimate America’s persuasive powers which are not necessarily linked to over-the-board, across-the-table diplomacy.
Look at the way it has managed to foist on us a so-called ‘civilian nuclear cooperation agreement’ that will revive the moribund American nuclear power industry, create thousands of jobs (which will not be open to holders of H1B visa, so there’s little reason for our middle-class to cheer the deal), give President George W Bush his only foreign policy ‘success’, and serve the purpose of forcing India into the non-proliferation regime without conceding its nuclear weapons capability. A full 10 years after being caught unawares as India conducted a series of five nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, 1998, the US is about to extract sweet revenge, if not retribution, for that act of stupendous defiance.
It would, however, be unfair to blame the US alone for India’s straitjacketing in so crafty and sly a manner. Governments are meant to protect their national self-interest and further their national agenda: There is little or no space for morality and ethics in international affairs; ruthless geopolitics does not countenance timidity although the powerful nations are not averse to doing business with obsequious regimes because they can ride roughshod over them.
If the US has succeeded in imposing upon us what Americans call a ‘bum deal’ or selling us what used car dealers in that country refer to as a ‘lemon’, it is because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has willingly accepted it. In the process, he has not only compromised India’s strategic interests but also wilfully misled a billion people. Not given to niceties, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has been less circumspect with his choice of words while accusing Mr Singh of “cheating” and “lying” over the nuclear deal.
Nothing illustrates this point better than the Prime Minister’s suppression of the real facts and full implications of the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, which have now been revealed with Mr Howard L Berman, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, making public the ‘confidential’ letter that had been sent by the Bush Administration to his predecessor, the late Tom Lantos, on January 16, 2008. It explains in detail American ‘commitments’ and Indian ‘concessions’ while arguing the case for the 123 Agreement. It also exposes the gulf that separates the various ‘commitments’ made by the Prime Minister in Parliament from the facts as perceived by the Americans. In brief, it proves that Mr Singh has been economical with the truth.
The drumbeaters of the Government have responded predictably, seeking to put a spin — no less risible than that of Mr Burns’ — on the disclosure and thus obfuscate its real meaning: That the Prime Minister did not tell all while presenting the deal as a ‘boon’ for India. The same arguments have been reiterated: “It is an internal document of the US Administration”; “We are guided by the 123 Agreement”; “There’s nothing new about the conditions”; and, “We cannot go beyond our commitment to Parliament, commitment made by the Prime Minister and commitment made by ourselves”. The last refers to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s robust defence of the nuclear deal on All India Radio. It is another matter that Mr Mukherjee’s assurances have proved to be false in the past; there is no reason why he should be taken seriously now.
Little purpose will be served by repeating all the points on which Mr Singh has misled the nation even if space were to permit such listing. The salient points would suffice to demonstrate that the apprehensions of those who have been steadfastly opposed to the deal because of its flaws are not unfounded. For instance, the letter makes it abundantly clear that the US has not given any legally binding nuclear fuel-supply assurance to India, only “presidential commitments” subject to American law. Now contrast this with what Mr Singh said in the Lok Sabha on August 13, 2007. He stressed on “detailed fuel supply assurances” by the US for “the uninterrupted operation of our nuclear reactors”. Mr Singh cannot claim ignorance of the American perception or understanding of the 123 Agreement because the letter clearly says, “We believe the Indian Government shares our understanding of this provision.”
Recall also how the Prime Minister assured the Lok Sabha the same day that “this Agreement envisages, in consonance with the Separation Plan, US support for an Indian effort to develop a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply for the lifetime of India’s reactors”. This is totally at variance with the Bush Administration’s communication to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which says India will not be allowed to stockpile such nuclear fuel stocks as to undercut American leverage to re-impose sanctions. To drive home this point, it says the 123 Agreement is not inconsistent with the Hyde Act’s stipulation — the little-known ‘Barack Obama Amendment’ — that the supply of nuclear fuel should be “commensurate with reasonable operating requirements”. The ‘strategic reserve’ that is crucial to India’s nuclear programme is, therefore, a non-starter.
Last, but not least, recall the Prime Minister’s declaration in the Lok Sabha on July 22, 2008: “I confirm that there is nothing in these agreements which prevents us from further nuclear tests if warranted by our national security concerns. All that we are committed to is a voluntary moratorium on further testing.” And what does the Bush Administration’s letter say? “As outlined in Article 14 of the 123 Agreement, should India detonate a nuclear-explosive device, the United States has the right to cease all nuclear cooperation with India immediately, including the supply of fuel, as well as request the return of any items transferred from the United States, including fresh fuel.”
The India-US nuclear deal is no longer only about how it compromises India’s sovereign rights and strategic interests. It is also about the integrity of those who have facilitated its imposition on India. Regrettably, the Prime Minister stands diminished with a questionable integrity quotient.

The Pioneer / Edit Page main article / September 5, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

To propagate is not to convert

To propagate is not to convert
Astonishing ignorance laces the arguments, proffered by bleeding heart lib-left intellectuals and politicians who insist that secularism means denial of Hindu rights, in defence of religious conversions through deceit, allurement and coercion. “The Constitution guarantees Christian missionaries the right to convert people to Christianity,” we are told. “In a secular country, the Constitution reigns supreme,” we are reminded. “Violation of rights enshrined in the Constitution will destroy democracy,” we are warned. But what does the Constitution say? Ask them this simple question, and the Constitution-thumping saviours of secularism, pluralism and republicanism will be stumped.This is what Article 25(1) of the Constitution says: “Subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.” Read it out to those who pretend great outrage every time there’s a hint of protest against conversions, and they will pounce upon you: “See, the Constitution gives Christian missionaries the right to propagate their religion.” But the right to ‘propagate’ does not mean the right to ‘convert’. And it is this inability to distinguish between the two that highlights the appalling ignorance of those who see nothing wrong with offensive evangelism.That the constitutional right to ‘propagate’ does not mean the right to ‘convert’ was clarified by the Supreme Court while upholding the validity of anti-conversion laws — the Freedom of Religion Act 1967 and the Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam 1968 — in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Chief Justice AN Ray, in his ruling, left little scope for confusion between propagation and conversion — the two, he said, were different: “What Article 25(1) grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion by exposition of its tenets.” The court also ruled that States, bearing in mind their responsibility to maintain public order, have the right to adopt laws “prohibiting conversion from one religion to another in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community”.Now let’s look at what has been happening in Orissa where violence has erupted in impoverished, tribal-majority Kandhamal district. Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu monk and anti-conversion activist of the VHP who had spent more than three decades working for the welfare of indigent and illiterate Hindus, setting up schools and shelters for them, was shot dead last Saturday night at his ashram. Four of his associates were also killed in the murderous attack.Strangely, the administration suggested that the killings were the handiwork of Maoists, who promptly denied any role. Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was attacked on several occasions in the past by hoodlums on the payroll of missionaries, had recently received death threats and his associates had sought police protection for him. Two constables were detailed to provide him with ‘security cover’ — on the night he was killed, they were nowhere on the scene.Over the past week, VHP activists have run amok, attacking evangelical missions and their staff. The resultant death of eight persons and the destruction of property, often no more than huts, belonging to Christians is no doubt reprehensible; violence cannot, indeed, must not, be the response to the most provocative of black deeds. Yet, the blowback to Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s murder cannot be seen in isolation. It has to be seen in the context of evangelists ‘harvesting souls’ by inducing the poor and the illiterate to embrace Christianity. Rice bowl conversions have little to do with faith in the good lord.A couple of years ago, Christian organisations, including the Catholic church, raised a huge hue and cry over violence against evangelists in BJP-ruled Rajasthan. The Minorities Commission got into the act, thundering articles appeared in the ‘secular’ media and television channels ran a 24x7 campaign lambasting ‘Hindu nationalists’ for persecuting ‘innocent Christians’. As always, truth was the first casualty.The furore was centred over a Hindi book, Haqeeqat, which was being freely distributed in Rajasthan’s tribal-dominated areas by ‘Archbishop’ MA Thomas and his son, ‘Reverend’ Samuel Thomas, of the Emmanuel Mission International. Written by a Kerala-based evangelist, MG Mathew, the book had been translated into Hindi by another evangelist, Daniel Nathaniel, also associated with the Emmanuel Mission International.Here are some examples — the more lurid and explicit bits do not merit reproduction — of what the book had to say about Hindus and Hinduism:n “Hindu gods and goddesses are fictitious and were invented to persecute Dalits”.n “With the progression of time, people all over the world were freed of their ignorance and they began to dis- own wicked and cruel gods and goddesses. But in India, because people are (enveloped) in the darkness of ignor-ance, imaginary gods and goddesses are still worshipped.”n “Sita was abandoned in the forest as per Ram’s wishes... Ram later asked Lakshman to kill Sita. In the end, Ram, frustrated with life, drowned himself in Saryu. Such are the teachings of half-naked rishis.”n “Krishna had a despicable sex life.”The Government of Rajasthan, following street protests against the book, scrutinised its contents and decided to ban it to prevent the eruption of violence. Simultaneously, cases were registered against the father-son duo of ‘Archbishop’ Thomas and ‘Reverend’ Thomas. The senior Thomas went into hiding, his son was arrested. The Emmanuel Mission International’s premises were raided and copies of the book seized. Immediately thereafter, the campaign of calumny began. There’s nothing new about such traducement; along with allurement, inducement, fraud and coercion, it has been one of the mainstays of evangelism.Religious conversions can have sinister social implications and destabilising political consequences. It’s not for nothing that Mrs Indira Gandhi, incandescent with rage after the mass conversion of Hindus to Islam at Meenakshipuram in February 1981, favoured the idea of States adopting anti-conversion laws and had the Home Ministry prepare a draft Act for circulation among State Governments. Why the draft never became law is another story best kept for another day.

Coffee Break / Sunday Pioneer / August 31, 2008.

Evangelists denigrate Hindu gods, goddesses

Conversion by deceit is reprehensible
Haqeeqat of evangelist diatribe against Hindu Gods and Goddesses
Reading proscribed or prohibited literature is both exciting and engrossing. I would probably find Lady Chatterley's Lover hugely boring if I were to plod through DH Lawrence's turgid prose today, but decades ago a tattered Jaico copy of the book, purchased surreptitiously from a pavement stall, was a prized possession.
After news broke about the Government of Rajasthan banning a book tantalizingly called Haqeeqat and coming down like a ton of bricks on Emmanuel Mission International's operations in Kota for using it as anti-Hindu propaganda, I was curious to check out its contents.
It was a revealing experience, partly because the book provides an insight into the warped mindset of those who believe their God is the only God worth worshipping. And, largely because its contents are a measure of the extent to which freedom of expression can be abused in the guise of exercising freedom of religion.
Hindu-bashing is nothing new for evangelists in India - they do it with as much ease as they distort Islam or Buddhism in other countries. Nor is the concept of harvesting souls in distress a novel method to add numbers to followers of Christ. From Indonesia to Sri Lanka, there were howls of protest against the manner in which evangelists tried to convert victims of the 2004 tsunami by preying on their emotional vulnerability.
What is new is the brazenness with which evangelists have begun to abuse objects and symbols of Hindu reverence, a trend that began a decade ago with Pat Robertson's proselytising visit to Rajahmundry where he infamously chided Hindus for "washing away their sins in the sperm of the God," the God being Lord Shiva.
Mr Robertson, on that occasion, characterised Hinduism as having "evil tendencies". Later, on 'Club 700', his immensely popular TV show, he expounded on this thesis by claiming "Shiva (is) the God of Destruction, and his consort, the Goddess of death (Kali) - that black, ugly statue there with all those fierce eyes."
This, in a sense, is the theme song of evangelists who are out harvesting souls in the villages of India, far away from prying Government eyes lest they be hauled up for unfair conversions or conversion through inducement and worse.
It is immaterial, as Dr Arvind Sharma, who teaches comparative religion at Montreal's McGill University, says, "Although Hinduism admits that different beings and entities can perform what we might consider evil acts, there does not seem to be a single entity such as the Christian devil in Hinduism. And since there is no practice of evil or concept of the devil in Hinduism, to call Hinduism demonic is really demonic."
Castigation, however, has not prevented willful perversion by evangelists of the living faith called Hinduism practiced by more than a billion people across the world. For evidence, pick up a copy of Emmanuel Mission's weapon of Hindu destruction - Haqeeqat.
It's not amusing to be told "Hindu Gods would use their penises as bombs! Whenever and wherever they wanted to, they would drop their 'penis bombs' to terrorise the people... But compared to foreign bombs, these penis bombs were a damp squib."
It's definitely aggravating to be informed, in the crudest possible manner, that "naked sanyasis are worshipped by (Hindu) women. The moment (Hindu) women see naked sanyasis, they fall on the ground and prostrate themselves before the sanyasis. (Hindu) women pour water on the sanyasis' penises and then happily drink that water. Ling Devata is gratified when he sees all these repulsive things and feels empowered."

Abusing freedom, falsifying gods
On Monday, March 20, Assist News Service, based in Lake Forest, California, USA, which circulates news about the work of evangelists around the world, put out a story by Michael Ireland, its chief correspondent, headlined 'India's Prime Minister launches investigation into arrest and persecution of Indian Christians'.
According to this story, "India's Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has launched an investigation into the arrest of Hopegivers International President Dr Samuel Thomas.
'Our letter writing campaign is working,' says Hopegivers Executive Director Michael Glenn, 'we must continue to write and fax letters of protest this week.'
Glenn said that because of the campaign, 'The Prime Minister of India has today appointed a four-member commission to investigate the persecution in Kota where our president and top administrative staff have been falsely accused and jailed. This is simply a naked effort to force Emmanuel to shut its doors'."
The story then goes on to urge Christians in the US to petition Senators, Congressmen and the US President against what it portrays as outrageous action by the Government of Rajasthan, prodded by 'Hindu fascists', against Dr Thomas and his fellow evangelists of Emmanuel Mission International that operates five registered societies in that State. These are: Emmanuel Bible Institute Samiti, Emmanuel Anath Ashram, Emmanuel School Society, Emmanuel Chikitsalaya Samiti and Emmanuel Believers Fellowship, all funded by the US-based Hopegivers.
What it does not mention, however, is the reason why Dr Thomas and his associates have been booked for violating Sections 153(a) and 295(a) of the IPC, "which deal with deliberately outraging religious feelings or insulting the religious beliefs of another community." Dr Samuel Thomas has been arrested and his father, Mr MA Thomas, has been declared an absconder.
And, while choosing not to elaborate on the nature of charges, the report quotes Ms Shelley Thomas, wife of Dr Thomas, who is at present in the US: "Nothing that my husband has done was intended to outrage or insult any other religion... This is a totally false charge and unrelated to the organised violence, threats, and attacks that have been conducted against us for the last six weeks."
It also points out that the Government of Rajasthan has "revoked without due process or hearing, all the operating licenses of the Hopegivers-supported bookstores, churches, the hospital and leprosy or HIV-AIDS outreaches, orphanages, printing presses, schools and other institutions."
Dr Thomas has been quoted saying, "Of course, none of these actions are legal. The terrorists and hate groups have taken the law into their own hands and sadly, we have lost confidence in the local Government to control them."
Since evangelist advocacy groups have willfully refused to tell the full story, it would be in order to place the facts on record.
The immediate provocation that led to the arrest of Dr Thomas and others involved with the Emmanuel mission's work in Kota is born of the contents of a book that he and his associates have been distributing among the people. The book, Haqeeqat, is authored by a Kerala-based evangelist, MG Matthew, and purports to be a rebuttal of MS Golwalkar's writings that have been published by the RSS as Bunch of Thoughts.
In reality, it is unadulterated abuse of Hindu scriptures, faith, ritual and tradition. It denigrates every tenet of Hinduism and pours undiluted scorn on Hindu icons and gurus. It casts aspersions on the chastity of Hindu women and questions received wisdom.
Published by the Kerala-based Truth & Life Publications, which puts out evangelist literature, it has been translated into Hindi by Dennis Nathaniel, associated with the Emmanuel mission, who has been arrested by Rajasthan Police. The book has been banned in Rajasthan. The author, against whom a non-bailable warrant has been issued, is believed to be hiding somewhere in Kerala.
Here are some samples of what Haqeeqat, which was being used by the Thomases and their associates to convince Hindus in Kota to abandon their faith and embrace Christianity, has to say:
* "Hindu gods and goddesses are fictitious and were invented to persecute Dalits" (Page 9).
* "To prevent indigenous people from acquiring knowledge, Saraswati invented difficult Vedas (which nobody can understand)". (Page 16)
* "With the progression of time, people all over the world (except India) were freed of their ignorance and they began to disown wicked and cruel gods and goddesses. But in India, because people are (enveloped) in the darkness of ignorance, imaginary gods and goddesses are still worshipped." (Page 17)
* "Naked sanyasis are worshipped by (Hindu) women. The moment (Hindu) women see naked sanyasis, they fall on the ground and prostrate themselves before the sanyasis. (Hindu) women pour water on the sanyasis' penises and then happily drink that water. Ling Devata is gratified when he sees all these repulsive things and feels empowered... These people are ignorant and do not know the difference between what is right and wrong." (Page 93)
* "Sita was abandoned in the forest as per Ram's wishes... Ram later asked Lakshman to kill Sita. In the end, Ram frustrated with life, drowned himself in Saryu. Such are the teachings of half-naked rishis who are praised by Hindutvawadis." (Page 100)
* "Lord Shiva, to get people to worship him, dropped his penis on Earth (Devi), shaking the ground and the sky! ... . Poor Dharti Devi was shaken by the weight of his penis. Seeing this, all the Gods were scared. It seems Gods would use their penises as bombs! Whenever and wherever they wanted to, they would drop their 'penis bombs' to terrorise the people. Thus, they were able to enslave the people... But compared to foreign bombs, these penis bombs were a damp squib." (Page 106-107)
* "(Ramakrishna) Paramahansa should have known that Ganga is the world's filthiest and dirtiest river. How many dead bodies float down this river every day? How many half-burnt dead bodies are dumped into it every day? And Hindus call it the holy river! In fact, all the rivers of India are dirty and polluted... Hindutvawadis pollute the rivers... and then depend on their false Gods to cleanse them..." (Page 122-123)
* "(For Hindus) men can be Gods, women can be Goddesses... animals are gods, snakes are gods... they (Hindu Gods) fight among themselves, marry among themselves, throw out their wives, run away with others' wives, they steal, get intoxicated, drink blood, are reincarnated as animals, fish and tortoise, some of them can lift mountains... Some Gods are in same-sex relationships and are yet able to produce babies. These Gods and Goddesses are always armed because they believe in killing and plunder. Some Gods think their penises are more powerful than nuclear bombs. Others like animals live naked among their followers. Some of them spend their time in yogic exercises, others are in samadhi and happy to see the number of blind followers swell... You can wash away your sins by worshipping the penises of Gods" (Page 146)
* "How could Arya Hindus bring Aryanisation on this earth. To be Arya, one has to be born of an Arya womb... If Arya Hindus want to bring Aryanisation then they must lend or rent out all Arya wombs to non-Aryans. Non-Aryans should be given Brahmin women so that children are born from Brahmin womb" (Page 182-183).
* "In modern India, many Ramas of this belief are living a carefree life. They marry several times, desert their wives, marry several times, and leave them. Many Ramas kill their Sitas. They are following their God Rama." (Page 269)
* "(Lord) Krishna had a despicable sex life... Shri Krishna is famous because of his love life. He had 16,008 wives. And all Yadav women were his illegitimate lovers. (Hindu) women are drawn towards him because of pornographic and vulgar tales of his sex life." (Page 391)
This is not the first time that the Emmanuel mission has run foul of the local administration and upset Hindus. On February 24, 2005, there was a near riot situation following the mission's crude attempt to convert Hindus through allurement and false propaganda. On that occasion, the mission head, Mr MA Thomas, had promised not to continue with such provocative activities.
The agenda papers at the National Integration Council meeting held under the tutelage of the UPA Government had this to say about Emmanuel mission and similar evangelist outfits:
"Communal tensions due to alleged conversion/reconversions:
In recent years, the issue of conversion/re-conversion has also become a major cause of communal tensions in some parts of the country. Allegations of forced conversions/ reconversions and subsequent communal tensions have surfaced from time to time. On many occasions even apprehensions, not founded on facts, on this account have given rise to communal tensions. Cases in point are the recent events on the occasion of the annual religious Assembly of the Emmanuel Bible Institute Samiti at Kota, Rajasthan, in February 2005. The situation was controlled due to prompt measures taken by the District States of Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have already passed legislations to regulate conversions by coercive means or offering allurements."
And yet, there is outrage over action against the Thomases. Such perverse drivel, such horrendous hate, as exemplified by the contents of Haqeeqat, the operating manual of Emmanuel mission, of course, is of no consequence to those who have taken up cudgels on behalf of its peddlers masquerading as Good Samaritans and Christian evangelists.
Instead, they are faxing letters to the White House, the US State Department, the United Nations, and Indian ambassadors to the US and the UN to paint the Government of Rajasthan in communal colours.
And, if Hopegivers Executive Director Michael Glenn is to be believed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has appointed a four-member commission to inquire into the "persecution" of peddlers of anti-Hindu hate. If this is true, then a public statement is called for from the Prime Minister's Office. If it's untrue, then the least the PMO can do is issue a denial.

By Kanchan Gupta
Rediff On The Net September 17, 1998
The live telecast of Mother Teresa’s funeral by Doordarshan has put as serious a question mark on the “secular” credentials of the Indian state.
How can a state funeral be accorded to a nun whose dedicated service to the sick and the dying was only an expression of her fierce, unflinching and dogmatic loyalty to the Catholic church?
A dangerous precedent has been set by both these actions which have done disservice to a person who, in her lifetime, made it a point to spurn the glitter of highlife for the squalor of Calcutta’s back alleys.
Saturday’s live telecast of the state funeral by Doordarshan, which was taken to homes beyond Indian shores by Star, and reportage by foreign television networks like CNN and ABC, has left those who know little about India (including metropolitan Indians), firm in the conviction that no indigenous Indian’s contribution to the spiritual uplift of our society and welfare of the poor equals that of Mother Teresa’s.
That, of course, is far from the truth.
Vinoba Bhave, Swami Chinmayananda, Acharya Sushil Muni and the Shankaracharya of Kanchi never got the publicity, either in the national or foreign media, that their lives richly deserved, largely because a story on a bhoodan was considered too dry compared to a report on how Calcuttans would be dying in the gutters of the Empire’s erstwhile second city had it not been for a foreign missionary and her team of nuns.
There is also that other factor: A certificate of good work that comes from the West influences how we look at ourselves. Vinoba Bhave, Acharya Sushil Muni and the Kanchi Shankaracharya never sought nor received any such certificate. Hence, we have minimised their contribution.
A third factor has to do with the very nature of Indian secularism, as defined by the liberal intelligentsia at home. Mother Teresa may have assiduously avoided metropolitan India’s highlife; but her rejection did not prevent her from becoming the subject of fashionable discourse in our lib-left society. There was — and remains — a percentage in appropriating an icon celebrated on canvas by none less than M F Husain. By adopting the foreign, they were rejecting that which was Indian — this alone was imperative enough to ignore the contribution by Vinoba Bhave, Acharya Sushil Muni or the Kanchi Shankaracharya to modern Indian spiritualism.
What better proof could there have been that they were the right choice than Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times providing lavish coverage to Mother Teresa’s work?
Cynical though it may sound, Mother Teresa knew the power of the foreign media in moulding the Indian opinion which matters in the corridors of power. True, she steered clear of these corridors — but she encouraged others to roam them in search of ways and means to further her work. While it is true that she did not discriminate between the high and the low, it is equally true that she discriminated, with great deliberation, between local and foreign media precisely for this reason.
A former colleague at The Statesman, Santosh Basak, who doubled as the Associated Press correspondent-cum- photographer in Calcutta, was asked to file a report on Mother Teresa after she returned home from her first spell in hospital. At the Mother House, he found a crowd of local mediapersons jostling for a quote and a shot. The Statesman photographer and reporter were there, too. Mother Teresa refused to make an appearance; a nun came out and told the scribes that “Mother sends you her blessings.” Period.
Basak sent in his ‘other’ visiting card, the one which described him as an AP correspondent. Within minutes, he was ushered into Mother Teresa’s room.
That evening The Statesman had neither a photograph nor a report, but AP had both.
As in life, so in death. An item in one of the Sunday papers quoted Indian photographers bitterly complaining about how the Missionaries of Charity discriminated between them and the foreign paparazzi. The report also quotes a Calcutta-based photographer as saying that these double standards were evident even when Mother Teresa was alive: “We got a ‘God bless you, my son’ but they got the exclusive photographs!”
One such ”exclusive” photograph appeared in a little- known, now defunct magazine called L’Assaur, the propaganda organ of the ruthless dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, better known as Baby ‘Doc’ Duvalier. It shows Mother Teresa holding hands with the despot’s wife. The accompanying report quotes her as paying lavish tributes to the man (from whom she had just received the ‘Legion of Honour’) who had to later flee Haiti in the face of the wrath of his oppressed people.
There are also those uncomfortable facts, but facts nonetheless, of Mother Teresa accepting donations from Charles Keating, later charged with massive fraud, and Robert Maxwell, who paid the bills of his unrestrained debauchery with money pilfered from pension funds.
Mother Teresa, of course, had a perfect explanation for all this, and much more — just as she had for the unseemly spat with Dominique Lapierre over the TV serial based on her life for which she accepted a hefty cheque… which fact came to light years after the payment was made. She was an unabashed servant of God and felt no qualms about the means so long as the end was justified — in her case, caring for the poor, the dying and homeless. And so long as God’s deed was done, nothing else mattered.
She was no social worker trying to change society nor an activist ushering in a revolution. She was a plain, though not simple, representative of the Catholic church, a zealous missionary untainted by thoughts other than that of Christ.
Mother Teresa herself never made any attempt to hide this fact; on the contrary, she would emphatically state she was no social worker. “There is always the danger that we may become only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work,” she told Malcolm Muggeridge. But by reaching out to the poor, she was reaching out to Christ.
It was this devotion to her chosen calling that made her see ‘’something beautiful in poverty and suffering”. Her successor, Sister Nirmala, was merely repeating what Mother Teresa believed all her life when she said at her first media conference that ”poverty is a gift of God”. That the poor should accept their poverty with ”contentment”.
It is in this acceptance that the road to Christian salvation lies. And Mother Teresa practised this with full earnestness. Like a good missionary, she was interested in saving the souls of the dying, the destitute and the homeless from eternal damnation, not in saving their bodies from death and decay.
Tragically, a life spent in the service of Christ and the furtherance of Christian faith was confused as a life dedicated in the service of society. It was this attempt to secularise Mother Teresa’s work and her mission, to coopt her into metropolitan India’s secular highlife, that resulted in Saturday’s state funeral with its attendant pomp and glitter, and its live coverage by Doordarshan. For the first time, official India went into mourning for a person religious, and the official media was used to propagate a doctrine that is definitely not secular.
In a sense, in their eagerness to convert Mother Teresa in death into what she definitely was not in life, the secular intelligentsia has minimised her contribution to the Catholic faith. Worse, a great wrong has been committed against indigenous Indians like Vinobha Bhave and the Kanchi Shankaracharya.

Arundhati Roy: If there's no democracy in India, why can't she move to Swat Valley?

Encouraging secessionism in the guise of protecting human rights
If only Arundhati would quit India
There can be nothing more pathetic than a middle-aged ‘radical’ preaching treason and penning seditious pamphlets. As a friend, who spent his 20s fighting for lost causes and getting beaten up by the police before being frog-marched to Kolkata’s Lalbazar lock-up on more than one occasion and has since settled down to a life of affluence in the US, pointed out, people with spreading midriffs and receding hairlines do not make a pretty sight while manning the barricades. Regis Debray participated in the ‘revolution in the revolution’ and then joined the establishment. Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit, better known as ‘Danny the Red’ and a hero of the summer of 1968, now heads a group of loopy Greens in the European Parliament. Tariq Ali, he who breathed fire and brimstone every time he opened his mouth, leads the occasional march against America in London and writes ponderous articles for The Guardian which are dutifully read by the street-fighting generation. So, you see, my friend said, pouring himself an extra large measure of single malt, it’s best you leave dissent to the young for whom being on the Left is as fashionable as wearing Prada.
That conversation, which took place on a winter evening at his suburban home in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, came to mind as I read about Arundhati Roy’s seditious comments after attending a rally organised by Muslim separatists of the Kashmir Valley on August 19. She was clearly impressed by the turnout, as were Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his cohorts when they saw the first train carrying future Pakistanis trundling into what was supposed to be the ‘land of the pure’ but has turned out to be a sinful Jihadistan. Jinnah, the ‘sole spokesman’, and his Muslim League were equally delighted by the bloodletting on Direct Action Day, August 16, 1946, and held it up as evidence of the impossibility of Muslims cohabiting with Hindus in Hindustan. Six decades later, more Muslims live peacefully with Hindus in Hindustan than Muslims live with Muslims in Pakistan. But we digress.
“If no one is listening then it is because they don’t want to hear. Because this is a referendum,” Arundhati Roy told mediapersons after the rally, “People don’t need anyone to represent them, they are representing themselves.” She then went on to assert with a flourish, “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.” There is understandable anger over her remarks, although the Congress need not have tried to distance itself from Arundhati Roy’s new age sedition: It’s the appalling denigration of nationalism and faith in the nation, which the Congress unabashedly indulges in to proclaim its ‘secular’ credentials, that encourages Arundhati Roy and her tribe to ridicule India, repudiate our national identity and revile our democracy. Curiously, it’s rather strange that having declared some years ago that she was “seceding from India”, Arundhati Roy continues to foul this land for which she has nothing but contempt. Or else she would not have used her invitation to a book-reading session in the US to declare that “there is no democracy in India”.
A pity. If only we were not democratic to a fault with a quisling for Prime Minister and a dissolute Congress in power, Arundhati Roy would have been hauled up under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, amended in 2004-05. The Act says, “Secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union includes the assertion of any claim to determine whether such part will remain a part of the territory of India.” The offences listed under this law include any assertion or statement “which is intended, or supports any claim, to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession”.
Since Arundhati Roy has not denied having said what has been attibuted to her by the media, she should be prosecuted. Others have landed behind bars under the same law for having said and/or done stuff that pales into insignificance when compared to her latest call for treason. The law, we are told every now and then, applies equally to all. But as George Orwell was to demonstrate, while all animals are equal, some are more equal than others. So, she gets away with no more than a wimp of a response from our political class. Page Three familiarity helps beat the system in this wondrous land of ours. Another way of looking at Arundhati Roy’s treachery would be to feel sorry for her. As I said earlier, there’s nothing more pathetic than a middle-aged ‘radical’ trying to grab space in newspapers and time on television, courtesy dumb journalists and starry-eyed anchors.
But Arundhati Roy is not alone in perverting the truth about Jammu & Kashmir. On August 20, Hindustan Times carried an asinine article written by Rajmohan Gandhi, defending the indefensible. In normal times, there would have been no cause to respond to Rajmohan Gandhi’s article, ‘Lal before the storm’; the rant of someone who has monopolised the market for charming though inconsequential tales from the life of a certain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi does not really merit serious comment. But these are not normal times. Hence, Mr Gandhi’s sly innuendoes and his attempt to peddle the same old bunkum about Jammu & Kashmir needs to be contested, if only to show that it is he who has indulged in half-truths and non-truths to provide oxygen to the fire raging in the Kashmir Valley.
It is obvious that Mr Gandhi has either not bothered to read the full text of Mr LK Advani’s letter to the Prime Minister, written on August 13, or, having read it, he decided to ignore its thrust and contents to serve his own perverse agenda. Mr Advani says in his letter, “Let it be clearly understood. The problem in J&K today is not Hindu versus Muslim; nor is it even Jammu region versus the Valley.” Having said this, Mr Advani contextualises the problem as a clash between ‘nationalists’ and ‘separatists’. Mr Gandhi contests this view. Surely Mr Gandhi does not believe that the hordes of Kashmiri Muslims — actually, tens of thousands of them — who tried to march to Muzaffarabad, waving the Pakistani flag and holding aloft placards with Jinnah’s portrait, are ‘nationalists’ whose hearts beat for India? The use of the national tricolour by the protesters in Jammu to declare their loyalty to India must be seen against the green-and-white-and-crescent backdrop of separatism in the Valley.
Coffee Break / Sunday Pioneer / August 24, 2008