Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Recasting India-Egypt relations

Looking beyond the Nehru-Nasser era

Kanchan Gupta

Age had not dimmed Mustafa’s memory or lessened his amazing power to recall events of the past. He was a treasure trove of fascinating stories that would come alive as he told them while gently puffing on his sheesha at the café outside Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture in downtown Cairo. Mustafa was among the oldest ‘local’ employees of the Indian mission and had virtually witnessed the evolution of India-Egypt relations over the decades, and possibly knew more than was contained in the dusty files at the chancery. When I took over as Director of the Centre, Mustafa was in charge of programmes and events; he took it upon himself to introduce me to the pleasures of smoking a sheesha while sipping thickly brewed Turkish coffee or mint shaai, depending on the weather. I would often join him at the café where he would regale me with stories about Ambassadors and their factotums in the Foreign Service, among them a certain head of mission whose frequent visits to the Soviet Ambassador’s residence had led to the Mukhabarat detaining his driver for interrogation. According to Mustafa, the driver was never quite the same again.One evening Mustafa called over a friend of his whom he wanted me to meet. As I reached his table at the café, he and his friend, dressed in a suit that had seen better days, rose to greet me. “Sir, meet Mr Nehru,” Mustafa said with a grand gesture, while ‘Mr Nehru’, with a huge smile on his wrinkled face, grabbed my hand and started shaking it vigorously. “Welcome to Egypt, Mr Gupta. I am Mohammed Gamal Abdel Nehru, very old friend of India,” he said, before I could get a word in edgeways. Coffee was ordered, a sheesha was fetched for me, and over the next hour Mustafa told me Mr Nehru’s story. Apparently, this diehard follower of Nasser was so besotted with India’s dashing first Prime Minister, so impressed by his rousing speeches centred on non-alignment and anti-imperialism, that he, a young man when he first saw the real Mr Nehru, had his name further amended. By then he had already added ‘Gamal Abdel’ to his name. Later, he named his daughter Indira Priyadarshini al-Hindi. Well into his seventies when I met him, Mustafa’s friend had vivid memories of how crowds would arrive at Cairo Airport to receive the Indian Prime Minister and rush to shake hands with him and Nasser. Unlike the practice now, when all of Downtown Cairo is shut down and the riot police ordered on the streets every time President Hosni Mubarak steps out of the Presidential Palace, which by itself is an extremely rare event, in those days security arrangements were non-existent and the two leaders would stroll out of the airport to cheering crowds and a military band playing a popular Hindi film tune.I could never quite figure out whether Mustafa and ‘Mr Nehru’ had pulled a fast one on me, which probably they had, and later laughed themselves silly, but what I could figure out during my assignment in Egypt was that the Nehru-Nasser era was long over as was the Non-Aligned Movement with Egypt firmly allied with the US, a fact which South Block appears loath to admit. Nothing else explains why the Ministry of External Affairs should have issued a gratuitous statement coinciding with Mr Mubarak’s arrival, “condemning the recent upsurge of violence in the Gaza Strip” and expressing “concern at the adverse effects of the closure of access points into the Strip on the prevailing humanitarian situation”. While waxing eloquent on the need to “restore peace urgently” and observe “basic humanitarian principles”, it chose to ignore the other details of the Gaza story: The incessant firing of rockets at Israeli civilians; the calculated move by Hamas to test Israel’s patience by becoming increasingly belligerent as the June 19 ‘ceasefire’, or hudna, brokered by Egypt, nears its end next month; and Ismail Haniya’s high-pitched tirade against Abu Mazzen as the Palestinian Authority election, scheduled for January, approaches. In any event, Monday’s stern statement, so blatantly loaded against Israel and brazenly glossing over Hamas excesses, would have impressed neither Mr Mubarak nor his 150-member entourage. Whoever thought of it in South Block is either ignorant of post-1979 Egypt-Israel relations or mistakenly believes that this is the best way to warm the cockles of Egyptian hearts when it clearly is not; Egypt is fully aware of India-Israel relations. But the fact that the bogus barrier erected by Nehru, who placed spurious Arab nationalism above genuine national interest, no longer separates New Delhi and Tel Aviv does not necessarily bother Cairo. Mr Mubarak, in his characteristic blunt manner, told a Delhi newspaper, “The world has changed since Nasser and Nehru.” He should know: Since 1981, when he took over as President after Anwar Sadat’s assassination by Islamists on October 6, 1981, he has been at the helm, charting the course of Egypt’s destiny in the post-Nasser world. Sadat may have made the first break with the past and given an unceremonial burial to Nasserite bunkum, it is Mr Mubarak who has ensured that Egypt does not lapse into rabble-rousing Arab nationalism which, in today’s context, is inseparable from radical Islamism. While he may belong to an era long past, he has the far-sight to realise that the only antidote to the spreading venom of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been scoring remarkable results in recent elections, is rapid economic development, not through US aid but industrial investment, and modernisation, not by opening Egypt’s doors to America’s urban trash culture but through IT and IT-enabled services. In this, his son — and heir apparent — Mr Gamal Mubarak plays an important role.As visits by heads of state go, Mr Mubarak’s two-day sojourn has not been spectacularly different. The clutch of agreements and MOUs that were signed are not going to make a substantial difference to India-Egypt relations, apart from reaffirming interest in what is described as ‘strengthening of bilateral relations’. Yet, the very fact that Mr Mubarak came to India 25 years after his last visit, when he was in New Delhi to attend the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit hosted by Mrs Indira Gandhi, is indicative of Egypt’s renewed interest in forging closer relations with India. This time, it is not about meaningless anti-American posturing and vainglorious Third World rhetoric, but doing business that is profitable to both Indians and Egyptians. Bilateral trade has been steadily inching northward and Mr Mubarak says he is hopeful Indian investment in Egypt touching $ 2 billion soon. And, like Mr Narendra Modi, the darling of investors in India, he is eager to see “big Indian enterprises such as Tata, Essar and Reliance, who have already chosen areas of investment opportunities”, to invest in Egypt. Gujarat State Petroleum Company has obtained a concession to dig for oil and gas. Excited by the possibilities, Egypt is willing to set up an exclusive industrial zone for India.The Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, with which he was honoured in 1995 but was actually handed over to him on Tuesday, was not the reason why Mr Mubarak visited India. That was at best incidental.

The Pioneer Editorial Page Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Recall The Goa Inquisition

Vatican owes us an apology
Coffee Break Kanchan Gupta
His Majesty the king has ordered that there shall be no Brahmins in his land and that they should be banished.”“In the name of his Majesty I order that no Hindu can or shall perform marriages…” “The marriages of the supplicants are superstitious acts or functions which include Hindu rites and ceremonies as well as cult, adoration and prayers of Hindu temples…” “I order that no Hindu temples be erected in any of the territories of my king… and that Hindu temples which already have been erected be not repaired…' Anybody familiar with the brutalisation of Hindu customs and practices, indeed Hindu faith and belief, could mistakenly believe these extracts have been taken from royal decrees issued during Muslim rule. The harshness with which suppression is prescribed in these decrees, the callous disregard that is advocated for the other’s sentiment, the cruelty that is so palpable in both thought and action, suggest that these firman could have been issued by one of the “shadows of god” who ruled this land, laying to waste Hindu lives and temples.But these are not extracts from firman issued by the Mughal court of, say, Aurangzeb. They have been taken from firmans issued by the Portuguese who ruled Goa and recognised no religion other than Christianity as the legitimate means of communion with god. It was no secular rule that they imposed, but a ruthless system of pillage disguised as trade and a cruel administration for whom Hindus were nothing more than “supplicants” to be crushed into submission or exiled into oblivion. The horrors inflicted on Galileo Galilei by the Inquisition — the Vatican has now admitted that the Church was wrong and Galileo was right — are well known. Not that well-known, and tragically so, are the horrors inflicted by the Goa Inquisition. Every child reads about Galileo’s trial and how it is symbolic of the triumph of science over faith. But there is no reference — indeed, all reference is scrupulously avoided — to the brutal attempts of the Church to stamp out Hinduism in the territories controlled by the Portuguese in India. And this silence is not because there exists no evidence: There exist, in full text, orders issued by the Portuguese Viceroy and the Governor. There exist, in written records and travelogues, penned not by the persecuted but by the persecutors, full details of the horrors perpetrated in the name of Christ. Hindus who dared oppose the persecution were punished, swiftly and mercilessly. Those who were fortunate, got away with being banished. The less fortunate had their property seized and auctioned — the money was used, in large measures, for furthering proselytisation. The least fortunate were forced to serve as slave labour on the galleys that transported loot from Indian shores to Portuguese coffers. Viceroy D Constantine de Braganca issued an order on April 2, 1560, instructing that Brahmins should be thrown out of Goa and other areas under Portuguese control. They had a month's time to sell their property — it is obvious who gained from such distress sale. Those found violating the viceregal order, it was declared, would have their properties seized. Another order was issued, this time by Governor Antonio Morez Barreto, on February 7, 1575, decreeing that the estates of Brahmins whose "presence was prejudicial to Christianity" would be confiscated and used for "providing clothes to the New Christians". The attitude of the Portuguese administrators in India and the Church hardened over the years, to a point where each fiat, each decree, each order, each letter, became an instrument of religious persecution. The Third Concilio Provincial — a gathering of bishops and other clerics — met in 1585 to review, among other things, the progress of converting the “heathens” to the “only faith”. The Concilio adopted a resolution which said, ‘His Majesty the king has on occasion ordered the Viceroys and Governors of India that there should be no Brahmins in his lands, and that they should be banished therefrom together with the physicians and other infidels who are prejudicial to Christianity, after taking the opinion of the Archbishop and other religious persons who have experience in the matter. As the orders of His Majesty in this regard have not been executed, great impediments in the way of conversion and the community of New Christians have followed and continue to follow.” One can quote from many other orders, resolutions and instructions that resulted in the hideous Vatican-backed Goa Inquisition. The details are not unknown to most of us; they are definitely well known to the Vatican. The reason I have raised the issue of the Goa Inquisition is two-fold. First, Pope Benedict XVI should bear in mind the horrors inflicted on Hindus in the name of Christianity before he berates them for being intolerant towards Christians. Second, the Vatican owes an apology for the crimes committed during the Goa Inquisition; it must apologise and repent for its misdeeds against Hindus and gross attempts to stamp out Hinduism. Not to do so would amount to continued endorsement of the crimes and the unfair practices of missionaries. Ten years ago, the Vatican issued a 14-page document, ‘apologising’ and ‘repenting’ for not doing enough to save Europe’s Jews from the Holocaust. While it is common knowledge that Pope Pius XII did not feel particularly appalled by Hitler’s ‘final solution’, the Vatican claimed in its 1998 document that he was unaware of the concentration camps, the mass slaughter, the gas chambers and the furnaces. The document, understandably, failed to impress Jews who have made it clear that Pope Benedict XVI is not welcome to visit Israel unless he offers an unqualified apology and makes public documents of that period which are now stored in the Vatican’s archives. The Vatican may have eliminated the phrase “perfidious Jews” from its liturgy and Pope John Paul II may have made it fashionable for the Pontiff to refer to Jews as “older brothers”, these are seen as no more than meaningless, insincere gestures. The purpose of securing an apology for the Goa Inquisition is not to belittle the Vatican, but to drive home the point that it cannot seek to occupy the moral high ground till such time it has apologised and atoned for the sins committed against Hindus. If the Vatican can say sorry to others, there is no reason why it cannot say sorry to Hindus. Their faith is no less than those of the Book.
The Pioneer Coffee Break Sunday, November 16, 2008



Unite Hindus and protect yourselfBy Swabhimaan on 11/18/2008 5:39:25 PMAll those who are tired of UPA like governments and pseudo secular media, please join Swabhimaan - a movement launched to unite Hindus of India and encourage them to voice their opinion. Interested members please send a mail to
DIABOLICAL POPEBy AJAY TYAGI on 11/17/2008 12:06:51 PMStray cases of breaking of window-panes in Managalore churches was blown out of proportions by bishops of Karnataka. English media also lapped up the far fetched theory of hindu terror. Happenings in Orissa and Karnataka are nothing in front of debausherry of perpetrators of Goa inquisition.
Vatican owes us an apologyBy S Kiran on 11/17/2008 11:31:02 AMThe Indian mindset has been tuned in such a way, by decades of rubbish churned out by the spineless, secular media, that they question the authenticity of reports like these. They conveniently believe that the religions from the desert are superior, many of them believing that civilization is a gift of these religions!
This is always been the caseBy Jignesh Shah on 11/17/2008 11:15:47 AMThis is the central truth, we are keen to dwell upon the attrocities committed by the Mughal rulers and we conveniently choose to forget the Christian attrocities committed on our people.The fact remains that the Christian missionaries are on the offensive yet again in garb of EVENGELISTS, this is akin to terrorism. It is indeed a shame, that all crimes committed by the Christians are forgiven.
Missionaries in IndiaBy Narain on 11/17/2008 12:07:14 AMKanchan Gupta is spot on. The old Pope must apologise to the Hindus in Goa for their past crimes. While the Pope is making up his mind, Roman Catholic Sonia Gandhiji could apologise to the Hindus in India.People should read the excellent report, published in the fifties, by Madhya Pradesh Ch. Justice-Neogi, on 'Activities of Christian Missionaries in India'. It was a damning report but Nehru, surprise, surprise, sat on the report. The Christiam Missionaries convert our innocent & poor people.
We are still prisoners of the past!By Sajeev Painunkal on 11/16/2008 10:56:31 PMIt is surprising how even the so called intellectuals try to hold on to events that took place hundreds of years ago, in an effort to justify their present mistakes and atrocities. If the Vatican owes an apology to the Hindus, then how much more the caste Hindus of India should apologize to the so called outcastes of India for the centuries long oppression and humiliation. Just like there is an advancement in science and history, there also an advancement in religious consciousness.
Vatican owes us an apologyBy N.S.Sankaran on 11/16/2008 7:24:42 PMI fully agree with Mr.H.R.Reddy's comments. Even if the Pope is graceful enough to apologise, the secularists will rush to stop him and apologise to him for the article instead.
VATICAN OWES US AN APOLOGYBy H.R.REDDY on 11/16/2008 12:47:20 PMIt is highly humiliating after reading this article. The so called secularists of India who take great objections and comment on Hindus whenever a church is vandalized. They go on to insult the swamis and frame charges of murder. The way the secular leaders in this country betray the faith they practice at home and in public is suicidal and make easy the faild attempts of ex rulers to destroy hinduism.