Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Canada regrets visa refusal letters

News Flash!
The following statement was issued by Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on visa refusals by the Canadian High Commission in India:

Ottawa, May 28, 2010 — “Canada has the highest regard for India, its government institutions and processes. Our friendship as democratic nations who operate under the rule of law grows ever stronger and we share a common bond of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity. Our economic and trade ties continue to strengthen both of our economies.
“Furthermore, at a time when global security continues to be a cause for concern, Canada values the increasing ties and cooperation with India in the fields of defence, security and counter-terrorism. Each year, Canada welcomes about 131,000 Indian residents on both a temporary and permanent basis, including many individuals from the various Indian security forces.
“The Government of Canada therefore deeply regrets the recent incident in which letters drafted by public service officials during routine visa refusals to Indian nationals cast false aspersions on the legitimacy of work carried out by Indian defence and security institutions, which operate under the framework of democratic processes and the rule of law.
“This language, or the inaccurate impression it has created, in no way reflects the policy or position of the Government of Canada. While, under Canadian law, admissibility to Canada is determined by a number of different criteria, candidate assessments should in no way question Indian institutions which operate under the rule of law and within a democratic framework.
“As to the decision process itself, decisions on visa applications are made on a case-by-case basis by non-partisan public servants following an independent process based on Canada’s immigration law as it currently stands. However, this unfortunate incident has demonstrated that the deliberately broad legislation may create instances when the net is cast too widely by officials, creating irritants with our trusted and valued international allies. For this reason the admissibility policy within the legislation is under active review at this time.”

* * * * * *
May 26, 2010
Canada cans India!

*Canadian High Commission officers malign, insult India

*No need for diplomatic niceties with boorish 'diplomats'

Last week when media reported how the High Commission of Canada had denied visa to a retired head constable of the BSF (whose daughter lives in Canada) on the grounds that the para-military force he had served was a “violent” and “notorious” force, there was more amusement than anger in New Delhi. Here was a na├»ve visa officer being self-righteously sanctimonious.
I was later told that the visa officer is a relatively junior official, a First Secretary, who knows next to nothing about India, is a cussed individual prone to being nasty, and for the most basic facts about her host country and its institutions, ‘googles’ for information. It is possible she looked up ‘BSF’ on Website operated by Kashmiri separatists and came to the conclusion that it is a “violent” and “notorious” force.
It now transpires that there is a pattern to Canada rejecting visa applications submitted by a certain category of Indians. On Wednesday, May 26, PTI put out the following story:
New Delhi, May 26: In fresh revelations of provocative actions, Canada has denied visas to a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal, three serving Brigadiers, a retired Lt General and a former senior IB official on the grounds that their organisations have been “engaging in violence”.
A serving Intelligence Bureau officer, assigned to travel to Toronto in connection with the Prime Minister's trip there next month, was also denied visa recently but was later allowed to travel after protest from India.
The denial of visas, over the last two years, has angered the Home Ministry which has warned that India would also "retaliate" by denying visas to Canadian officials who go to Afghanistan via this country.
I have posted alongside a copy of the letter issued to the former senior IB officer by the High Commission of Canada, signed by First Secretary S Auger. The details are self-explanatory. You can read it by clicking on it. I wonder if Ms Auger is the visa officer at the High Commission who decided on the visa applications that were turned down by citing the most absurd, outrageous and astonishing reasons.
If the Manmohan Singh Government had any sense of self-respect and dignity, had it been bothered about India’s stature and national pride, and had the Prime Minister not been so enamoured of Western Governments whose approval matters to him more than approval by the masses at home, then the Ministry of External Affairs would have been instructed to summon the Canadian High Commissioner, give him 24 hours to set things right, de-roster the guilty visa officer/s and send them back to wherever they have come from. Simultaneously, it would have issued a statement declaring no more visas for Canadians travelling to and from Afghanistan via New Delhi.
Since no ostensible purpose will be served by the Prime Minister’s tax-payer funded junket to Toronto, it should have been called off too. In the event of the Canadians not complying with the MEA’s demands, the relevant officers should have been declared persona non grata and asked to leave the country by the first available flight. There is no scope for diplomatic niceties over another country’s diplomatic crudity.

Canada has no moral authority to play good cop. Its own record of officially-sanctioned racism and racist violence would shame any country. The ‘exclusion laws’ devised by Canada to keep ‘darkies’ out of the country are not entirely forgotten. The Komagata Maru incident in 1914 will forever remain a blot on Canada’s history.
We must also not forget that Canada was the biggest sanctuary for Khalistani terrorists wanted for crimes against civilians in India. Canada refused to entertain any requests from India on either restraining the Khalistanis or handing over criminals to stand trial for murder and worse in India. The Babbar Khalsa International was launched right under the noses of Canadian authorities.

The bombing of Air India’s Kanishka (flying on the Montreal-London-Delhi-Bombay route) on June 23, 1985, was planned and executed by Khalistanis living in Canada. The aircraft blew up off Ireland, killing 329 people on board – 307 passengers and 22 crew members. Among the dead were 280 Canadian nationals, most of them of Indian origin, and 22 Indians. Twenty-five years and a 20-year sham trial later, the conspirators remain unpunished.
Canada also happens to be one of the most secure sanctuaries for supporters, members and fund-raisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam.
I have travelled through Canada and have happy and fond memories of that country and its people. I don’t think the denial of visa by ill-informed, boorish officials at the Canadian mission in New Delhi on such ridiculous grounds enjoys any degree of support among Canadians and their political leadership. Yet, this nonsense must be halted and an example made out of it so that other missions are not tempted to treat India and Indians shabbily while enjoying our hospitality.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pakistan's gesture of friendship: Hafiz Saeed walks free!

A slap in the face of India

But Manmohan Singh is unmoved

On Monday, May 24, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh defended his decision to resume bilateral dialogue with Pakistan at the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister level. This decision, announced at Thimpu where Manmohan Singh met Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, flies in the face of public opinion in India. It proves that Manmohan Singh’s grovelling capitulation at Sharm el-Sheikh, where he agreed to delink Pakistan’s yet-to-be-fulfilled promise to act against anti-India Islamist terrorist groups operating out of territory under Islamabad’s control from the resumption of the ‘composite’ bilateral dialogue which had been suspended after 26/11, was no mistake. He did with the purpose of resuming talks without securing India’s national interest; he did it under American pressure; and, he did it knowing full well that he does not have mandate to do so.
At his May 24 Press conference Manmohan Singh defended his decision to resume dialogue with the Pakistani political-military-jihad alliance by insisting:
a. India cannot but seek peace and better relations with its “largest neighbour” (which is bunkum, not least because Pakistan is not India’s ‘largest’ neighbour);
b. India cannot progress economically unless it has “resolved” all issues with Pakistan (which is not true as India’s growth has been independent of its relations with its rogue, terror-sponsoring neighbour); and,
c. India must reduce the “trust deficit” that stands in the way of better relations with Pakistan (which is hogwash because the ‘trust deficit’ is of Pakistan’s account and it is for Pakistanis to reduce it).

Expectedly, the Left-liberal section of Delhi’s commentariat waxed eloquent while heaping praise on Manmohan Singh for discounting national interest in pursuit of peace with Pakistan. Our self-seeking middleclass, which is obsessed with furthering its own wellbeing at the expense of India’s wellbeing, of course, is unable to fathom the consequences of Manmohan Singh’s disastrous decision. Arun Jaitley did make a valiant attempt to highlight the folly of the Prime Minister’s action, but his other senior colleagues in the party, especially Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, maintained a strange, inexplicable silence.
On Tuesday, May 25, the Pakistani Supreme Court allowed Hafiz Saeed, the chief terrorist of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba / Jamaat-ud-Dawah and one of the key men who plotted the 26/11 fidayeen attack on Mumbai, to walk free. Apparently, the three-judge bench came to the conclusion that there was no evidence to keep Hafiz Saeed under house arrest – leave alone in jail – for his role in the 26/11 mass murder.
The Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision is in keeping with the Pakistani Government’s repeated insistence that the Government of India has failed to provide any evidence against Hafiz Saeed and his fellow terrorists. Several dossiers with stacks of documents supplied by New Delhi to Islamabad have been glibly labelled as ‘fiction’.
Pakistan’s mocking inaction against the masterminds behind the 26/11 outrage is in sharp contrast to the haste with which it has detained friends, associates and family members of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani American arrested in New York for planting a car bomb at Times Square. The bomb was defused before it could explode.
Obviously the Americans are pleased. And they couldn’t give a damn about Pakistan sponsoring cross-border terrorism against India. Just as they couldn’t bother with giving Indian agencies access to another Pakistani American, David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani, a member of Chicago’s LeT cell who did the groundwork for the 26/11 attack and other planned terrorist outrages.
It would be in order to presume that Pakistan has impressed upon its benefactor the need to protect Headley/Gilani lest he tell Indian investigators all about the involvement of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi alliance in waging jihad against India. US President Barack Hussein Obama couldn’t but have obliged his favourite criminal regime. That favour has been returned by acting promptly against the alleged allies of Faisal Shahzad.
America is happy. Pakistan is happy. As for India, it better do what B Hussein O instructs Manmohan Singh to do. With an effete Prime Minister, India has no other option but to comply with what America demands, which is really what Pakistan wishes.
Meanwhile, the self-righteous, sanctimonious UN Secretary-General would do well to ponder over the contempt with which Pakistan, with the full backing and support of America, has treated the UN Security Council resolution against JuD and its terrorist leaders.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The secret diary of Hamid Mir

Or why news telly in India is so insensitive!

If Saturday morning’s crash of an Air India plane in Mangalore that resulted in the loss of 159 lives was shockingly tragic, the coverage of the horrific incident by television news channels was appallingly callous. Chasing TRPs, some channels tripped over each other to be the first to get ‘exclusive’ tid-bits of the accident, and took ghoulish delight in presenting macabre details. What was most insensitive was television reporters thrusting their mikes into the faces of survivors and asking stunningly bovine questions. Actually, they were not asking, but demanding replies to questions that were uncalled for. So we had these shaken and injured survivors, too traumatised to think straight and possibly still in a daze, unable to comprehend what had gone wrong in the last few minutes before the plane they were travelling in from Dubai was to have come to a halt on the runway and then slowly made its way to the parking bay, recounting their horror for the benefit of television news channels. What they (or grieving families) said made little sense, which is understandable. Our smart alec anchors would have been far more incoherent and incomprehensible had they been through something far less traumatic and life-threatening.

Make no mistake. The survivors, who were in need of immediate medical assistance and could do without television cameras at their moment of ordeal, were not being brought to the screens of your television sets to inform you about what happened, why it happened, how it happened. In any event, none of the few who survived the crash could possibly throw any light on what went wrong with a landing that was supposed to be smooth — the commander and his co-pilot had landed the same aircraft on the same runway innumerable times in the past and are believed to have known the terrain like the backs of their hands — but proved to be fatal. The survivors were pounced upon by camera crews because it gave them a great high (they were able to get ‘exclusive’ grabs for their channels) and their bosses an opportunity to claim that they had it before anybody else did. That in the process all norms of decency, dignity and discretion were rudely trampled upon, and editorial caution that should have been exercised was thrown to the wind, matters little to our television channels.

Which, of course, is nothing new. Why else would our television channels have sought out Hamid Mir, the now disgraced ‘star’ of Pakistani television and chief of Geo TV, for his comments whenever issues related to that country or India-Pakistan relations cropped up? That Hamid Mir has a dubious past is known to everybody on either side of the Radcliffe Line. Nor is it a well-kept secret that Hamid Mir’s sympathies have all along been with the Islamists and not the modernists of Pakistani society and politics. By extension, his association with the ISI and the Pakistani Army has often been a subject of animated discussion. Yet, what is known as ‘mainstream media’ in India had no compunctions about showcasing Hamid Mir and presenting his views as those representing ‘mainstream opinion’ in Pakistan!

Well, mainstream opinion in Pakistan, at least that which reflects what the educated, thinking classes of that country think, is at the moment heavily loaded against Hamid Mir. Recently, a tape surfaced on Facebook which had him talking to a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or what is popularly referred to as the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ by Pakistanis. The conversation had nothing to do with news-gathering: It amounted to Hamid Mir instigating the TTP to kill Khalid Khwaja, a former ISI agent known to be close to the Americans who had been kidnapped by the Punjabi Taliban. The tape reveals Hamid Mir accusing Khalid Khwaja of having links with the minority Ahmedis and the Americans, both sufficiently sinful in the books of the Pakistani Taliban to merit the death sentence. Subsequently, Khalid Khwaja was killed. Hamid Mir tried to disown the tape, saying it was not his voice. Strangely, the ISI has confirmed that it was indeed Hamid Mir’s voice on the tape; senior journalists who have known Hamid Mir for years have also confirmed the tape’s authenticity.

A debate is now raging in Pakistani media circles about who taped the conversation between Hamid Mir and the TTP, and why was the tape leaked. According to some journalists, the outing of Hamid Mir also exposes the deep rifts within Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, namely the ISI, the Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau. Any one of them could be trying to embarrass the other as Hamid Mir is said to have had livewire links with all of them. Another theory has it that the whole purpose was to expose the Islamists within Pakistan’s intelligence agencies by those sections in the ISI, MI and IB aligned with the either the US or China — sort of an ‘ideological’ war which has now come into the open. This is discounted by knowledgeable members of Pakistan’s commentariat who believe, and perhaps rightly so, that there is little that divides Pakistani intelligence agencies and their operatives ‘ideologically’; any alliance with either the Americans or the Chinese is purely tactical and does not automatically denote rejection or repudiation of Islamism.

The fine print, really, is inconsequential. The fact remains that Hamid Mir is more than just chief of Geo TV; he is also in cahoots with Pakistani intelligence agencies and has strong links with organisations like the TTP which are considered ‘strategic assets’ by sections of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi political-military-jihad complex. What is also of some importance for us is that Geo TV belongs to Independent Media Corporation, which owns the Jang group of newspapers. And as we all know, the Jang group is the Pakistani partner of a well-known Indian group of newspapers in a joint venture called ‘Aman ki Asha’ which aims to promote cross-border harmony and peace. It would be perfectly in order to ask how can a media group that has die-hard Islamists with links to terrorist organisations vehemently opposed to peace with India in senior positions be a trans-border peace partner. It would also serve some purpose if we were to be told as to why the Jang group was selected over other newspaper groups or independent dailies like the Daily Times, which has played a leading role in exposing and outing Hamid Mir. Chinese whispers are not exactly reliable. But there could be some truth to the story doing the rounds that it was neither aman nor asha that prompted the partnership between the two media groups.

[This appeared as my weekly column Coffee Break in Sunday Pioneer, May 23, 2010.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thought police are powerless

Why ban doesn't work on the Internet!

There was great alarm and panic in Twitterworld across the Radcliffe Line on Friday morning when journalists, not all of them Pakistanis, found they could not log on to With Facebook and YouTube officially banned, and a mysterious disruption in BlackBerry services, they were appalled by the possibility of being denied access to Twitterworld where tweets are not just about what’s happening, but what’s happening around you.

The uninitiated may be forgiven for believing that Twitterworld is where you discover the fads and fancies of celebrities and tweeting is no more than social-networking; tweeple not given to frivolity of the variety that got Mr Shashi Tharoor into trouble with the fuddy-duddies in the Congress are increasingly using this new media platform for exchanging information and ideas and instant micro-blogging. Even before a story becomes breaking news on television channels, it is out there via a 140-character tweet. More importantly, a lot of stuff that does not find space in newspapers and news shows finds its way into Twitterworld: Dissemination is instant, without barriers and free of ‘editing’. It was, therefore, not surprising that there should have been alarm and panic when journalists in Pakistan found being more difficult than it is on certain bad days.

Thankfully, the glitch proved to be temporary: Had Twitter too been banned by Pakistani authorities, it would have meant another window to the world being shut. Those who do not have to worry about their Governments snooping on them in the virtual world of the Internet, or are fortunate enough to live in liberal democracies with open, plural societies, will never be able to gauge the importance of any of the new media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot and WordPress, to name only a few, for those who find themselves saddled with regimes that claim to be ‘democratic’ but lack the moral courage to uphold the two essential values that define a democracy: Freedom of speech and personal liberty. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot and WordPress acquire a new meaning and a vastly different purpose in countries like Pakistan, Iran and China where they afford their users an exhilarating sense of freedom otherwise denied by prevailing political realities and social circumstances.

When the state blocks access to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot, WordPress and other such Websites, its purpose is to both play thought police as well as curb the human urge for freedom and liberty which, if allowed to take form and shape, can pose a threat to the oppressive ruling elite. But if technology is open to subversion by a repressive state, the repression is open to subversion by the very people whom the state seeks to control and dominate. Just as there is software which blocks access to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot and WordPress — and, in some countries, Wikipedia, Google and related services — there are proxy servers and ways and means of beating the ban.

The Communist Party of China loves to believe that the Chinese in mainland China do not have access to Facebook (and other blogging sites). The truth, however, is far removed from this belief. Similarly, dissident Iranians regularly work around officially blocked and banned sites to send out information about what’s happening in the land of the ayatollahs and their chosen rage boy called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within hours of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority implementing the order of the Lahore High Court banning Facebook — and later YouTube — because a group of Islamist lawyers insisted these sites hosted “sacrilegious” and “derogatory” content, tech-savvy young Pakistanis abroad were tweeting to Pakistanis at home how to defy the ban.

That could be the reason for Friday’s snag in Twitter services, although applications like TweetDeck remained unaffected. Possibly the task of blocking a service accessible through multiple applications proved to be Herculean for telecom service providers. Or the fear of upsetting millions of young men and women in a country with 20 million Internet users may have held their hand. The good news, as of now, is that Twitter is working in Pakistan. The ban on Facebook and YouTube remains, but it is most likely proving notional. As one Pakistani tweeted: “What’s common to Facebook and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba?” and then replied in jest, “They are both banned in Pakistan, but Pakistanis can still find them if they want to!”

The issue, however, is less to do with the absurd order of the Lahore High Court and the knee-jerk reaction of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority — obviously at the behest of the Government headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, a deceitful though effete politician — and more about taking recourse to proscription as a means of perpetuating thought control and suppressing freedom of speech. In Pakistan and other Islamic countries, Islamists and fanatics unite in seeking to deny co-religionists the right to disagree and express dissent on matters of faith. The concept of blasphemy, which should really be restricted to believers of the faith that has been blasphemed, has now been expanded to include those who subscribe to other faiths or to no faith at all.

Hence, we have now reached a stage where mullahs in Pakistan feel emboldened enough to declare that American cartoonist Molly Norris is guilty of committing ‘blasphemy’ by creating a Facebook page for ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ last Thursday and, therefore, deserves to die. That Ms Norris has denied the allegation — “Hello, I never created a Facebook page for EDMD. A stranger to me did so. Thank you, Molly” she wrote on her webpage — and that it is possible for anybody to open a page on Facebook or upload a video on YouTube under an assumed name is of little or no consequence to mullahs who in all probability do not know the difference between a mouse and a keyboard but wield terrifying power in this day and age.

It could be argued that the Pakistani authorities were wise in taking pre-emptive action rather than allow the mullahs to take to the streets and run amok as they did in 2005 following the contrived controversy over the alleged lampooning of Prophet Mohammed by cartoonists in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. More importantly, it could be pointed out, and justifiably so, that we in India, a country which takes pride in portraying itself as a democracy with a liberal, open society, are really not better off: After all, our Government too is given to banning books, films and Websites that are perceived to be ‘offensive’ to communities, especially the religious minorities. Our mullahs are no less vicious and their mindset no less regressive than mullahs in Pakistan or elsewhere.

Technology, however, is proving to be a great leveller. It is easy to ban books and films and proscribe publications. But it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to ban Websites and digital platforms. That is today’s reality and we might as well learn to live with it. We can’t demand freedom of speech and freedom of faith without conceding the freedom to offend; ideas must be contested with ideas and not sought to be stamped out by bogus decrees. To refuse to accept this fact would be to under-estimate the power of technology — that would be both foolish and dangerous.

[This appeared as Edit Page main article in The Pioneer on May 22, 2010.]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

For women, eyes must be covered

The joyless world of Deobandi fatwas

Is it necessary for a woman’s eyes to be covered while in observance of purdah? Is it necessary for her hands to be covered while in observance of purdah? Is it necessary for her feet to be covered while in observance of purdah?

The best purdah for a woman is that the palms and no part of her body and adornments are exposed, ie, the whole body is covered from head to toe. If it is possible to see through the purdah, then the eyes also should be covered... (Fatwa: 1587/1330=L/1429)

Can women wear gents clothes? Is it permissible for women to wear jeans and T-shirts?

There are some Hadith that relate curse for such women who adopt the resemblance of men. Therefore, wearing clothes of men is not correct for women. (Fatwa: 771/730=B)

Can women use perfume or ittar because they get more sweating (pasina)? Can they use or Islam doesn’t give permission to use?

Women can use perfume provided they are not passing by non-mahram in this state. While going out of house using aromatic perfume is not lawful. One should avoid using such perfumes which contain alcohol. (Fatwa: 604/L=212/tl=1431)

Is it allowed for a Muslim woman to cut and colour her hair for her husband? Is it allowed for a Muslim woman to do such style as Western woman for her husband?

It is unlawful and haraam for a woman to cut the hair of her head (even) though for her husband. But, she can colour it with colours other than black. The dye should not be thick having layers which may prevent water to reach to the surface of the hair. Imitating the Western-styled women and adopting their resemblance in matters against sharia’h is unlawful. It is not lawful even for husband. (Fatwa: 1347/1347=M/1430)

I would like to know if it is permissible for a Muslimah to work as a translator for a tribunal.

It is not a good thing for women to do jobs in offices. They will have to face strange men (non-mahram) though in veil. She will have to talk and deal with others which is fitna (evil). A father is committed to provide maintenance to his daughter and a husband is asked to provide maintenance to his wife. So, there is no need for women to do jobs which always pose harm and mischief. (Fatwa: 691/636=D/1429)

Can Muslim women in India do Government or private jobs? Shall their salary be halaal or haraam?

It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in Government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without veil. (Fatwa: 577/381/L=1431)

These are but a few fatwas issued by the learned muftis, the ulema, the scholars who teach young men with impressionable minds the real, true meaning of Islam and how it governs the daily lives of the faithful. And they have been issued by Darul Uloom, Deoband. More precisely, they have been issued by Darul Ifta, which according to this Islamic seminary at Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, the second largest in the world after Cairo’s Al Azhar, “is one of the most significant departments of Darul Uloom” to which “people from across the world pose questions on religious and social matters”.

We are further informed that “Darul Uloom has issued fatwas from its inception but when questions started coming in bulk and it was hard for the teachers to reply them in their part time, Darul Uloom set up this department (Darul Ifta) in 1892”. Darul Ifta has so far issued “more than seven lakh fatwas”. The department claims, and we have no reason to disbelieve the learned men (they have to be men as women are not deemed to be learned enough to decide on theological issues; they can merely ask and must abide by the response) that fatwas issued by Darul Uloom are held in “high esteem in and outside the country; besides the masses, the law courts in the country also honour them and consider them decisive”. In brief, they are not mere advisories but binding on Muslims. At least that’s what those issuing the fatwas believe, and would like us to believe.

It would be facetious to suggest and erroneous to presume that the more than seven lakh fatwas issued by Darul Uloom, Deoband, pertain only to how women should deport themselves and live their lives according to the tenets of Islam. From Islamic beliefs to world religions, from deviant sects and groups to innovations and customs, from the Quran to the Hadith and Sunnah, from purity to prayer, from death and funeral to business and industry, from international relations to penal code, and of course women’s issues, Darul Uloom, Deoband, has a firm view on almost every imaginable aspect of our lives, including whether it’s alright to use a razor to shave the most intimate parts of our body.

Seeking guidance from Darul Uloom, Deoband, a person asks: “Is it halaal to take a policy in LIC according to sharia’h in Islam?” The learned muftis answer: “LIC policy is unlawful due to being based on interest and gambling.” (Fatwa: 565/565/M=1431) Another person seeking enlightenment writes in: “At present I am working in a private limited company as an accountant. I want to know about bank jobs. Can a Muslim take a job in a bank or insurance company?” The scholars provide their considered reply: “The job of writing and calculating interest based work in conventional banks and insurance companies is not lawful for a Muslim.” (Fatwa: 466/466/M=1431) “Dear mufti sahab,” a person who wants further clarification writes, “Is it allowed in Islam to work as a life insurance agent?” Firm and unrelenting, mufti sahab sternly replies: “Life insurance contains interest as well as gambling and both these things are unlawful as per Quran and Hadith. Therefore, working as agent of life insurance is helping in sin, so it is prohibited by sharia’h.”(Fatwa: 762/571=L/1430)

Faced with a court order, a person seeks guidance: “I had a factory which was closed down because of sealing in Delhi. Now the court has ordered me to pay compensation (on which they have charged interest) to the non-Muslim labourers who worked there. Since my financial position is not very good, I would like to ask whether I can pay this amount from the bank interest that has accumulated in my bank account or out of zakaat?” To this profound query the muftis reply: “Interest amount of bank or zakaat cannot be given to non-Muslim labourers.” (Fatwa: 1178/1178=M/1430)

Such then are the views of Darul Uloom, Deoband, which are assiduously inculcated among those who study there. These views are then propagated at the tens of thousands of madarsas where Deobandi mullahs are employed to teach young children. It would be worthwhile to remember that the Government of secular India spends taxpayers’ money on funding these madarsas.

He thought, breathed, lived for people

Bhairon Singh Shekhawat

Rajasthan ro ek hi singh, Bhairon Singh, Bhairon Singh! Out there in the desert, it was a colourful sight. A large crowd had gathered to hear Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who was then Chief Minister of Rajasthan. It was early evening. Babosa, as Bhairon Singh was popularly — and affectionately — referred to, was on a jan sampark tour: The benign ruler among the masses, whom he never tired of describing as “my people”.

Later that night, as we ate a Spartan desert meal, Babosa casually mentioned how he would have had never become the ‘only lion’ of Rajasthan but for a decision he took nearly half-a-century ago at the behest of his younger brother.

It was 1952 and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was looking for candidates to contest the first election. His younger brother, Vishan Singh, who had been attending the local shakha at Khachariawas, a dusty village in Sikar district where the Shekhawat family lived, knew the office-bearers of the newly-floated Jana Sangh. He met one of them, a pracharak who had been made joint secretary, and suggested that his elder brother be considered as a potential candidate.

Bhairon Singh, who had resigned from the police after rising to the post of Assistant Sub-Inspector, was at a loose end. Goaded by Vishan Singh, he met the Jana Sangh joint secretary and was ‘evaluated’ to check whether he met the party’s tough criteria. Later, he was taken to meet the Jana Sangh general secretary. Both the office-bearers were sufficiently impressed by the young man in a saafaa, khaki shirt, tightly-wrapped dhoti and sporting a traditional Rajputana moustache to give him the ticket for Danta-Ramgarh constituency.

Bhairon Singh won the election and became an MLA. He never looked back after that, winning each Assembly election, except the 1972 poll, till he became Vice-President of India in 2002. As he went on to build the Jana Sangh in Rajasthan and lead its team of legislators, the general secretary and joint secretary busied themselves building the party at the national level. The general secretary was Sunder Singh Bhandari. The joint secretary was LK Advani. “Among the many fond memories of my long association with Bhairon Singhji, the fondest is of inducting him into politics,” Advani said on Saturday.

In those early years, Bhairon Singh was a radical among conservatives whose voice would often be heard both outside and inside the Assembly. “Those days when he spoke, he roared like a lion,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee once recalled while talking about his close friends in the Jana Sangh and later the BJP, adding, “He was not so soft-spoken then. With his moustache and rolled up sleeves, he looked like a fighter… He still remains a fighter.”

The Jana Sangh in Rajasthan faced a major crisis in the 1950s. The Government had decided to abolish the jagirdari system and a Bill was introduced in the Assembly. There were eight Jana Sangh MLAs, most of them from landed, feudal families which were appalled by the move to abolish jagirdari. Bhairon Singh sought the advice of party leaders. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Deendayal Upadhyaya said the party should support the Bill for abolition of jagirdari as it was committed to an egalitarian society.

The decision was conveyed to the MLAs. When the Bill came up for discussion and voting, six of the eight Jana Sangh MLAs walked out of the party rather than support the legislation. Bhairon Singh, who forever remained proud of his Rajput lineage and heritage, was one of the two Jana Sangh legislators who voted for the Bill.

Bhairon Singh was equally forceful in insisting that the Jana Sangh should have nothing to do with Ram Rajya Parishad as that would mean supporting the views of its leader, Swami Karpatri, who openly advocated the practice of chaturvarna. “Swami Karpatri once pointed towards me and said, ‘Yeh aur woh, sab ek thaali se khatein hain.’ I walked up to him and said, ‘Khana thaali se hi khaya jata hai’,” Bhairon Singh told me on another occasion. That was his subtle jibe at Swami Karpatri who never used a plate or any other utensil for his meals, but insisted that food be served in his palms.

With the fall of the Congress after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, during which Bhairon Singh, like most Opposition politicians, was jailed, the Janata Party came to power in several States; one of them was Rajasthan. The Jana Sangh had merged with the Congress (O), the Socialists and other Opposition parties to form the Janata Party. Bhairon Singh was elected leader of the legislature party and became Chief Minister. That Government was sacked soon after Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980.

Smarting from that gross injustice and furious with an imperious New Delhi, Bhairon Singh initiated the forging of an alliance of Opposition Chief Ministers to demand reforms in Centre-State relations, ranging from transfer of taxes to States to prevention of misuse of Article 356 to dismiss non-Congress Governments. It was during those years that he struck a friendship with leaders across the political spectrum, from Jyoti Basu in West Bengal to Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab to Farooq Abdullah in Jammu & Kashmir and M Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu. That friendship endured the test of time and the ups and downs of politics.

Although not known for any proximity with the RSS, Bhairon Singh walked out of the Janata Party along with Advani and Vajpayee over the ‘dual membership’ issue. And set himself to the task of rebuilding the party, reborn as BJP, virtually from a scratch in Rajasthan. He called on old workers and they responded in full measure.

His second stint as Chief Minister after the BJP won the 1990 election also proved to be short-lived when the State Government was dismissed in 1992 after the demolition of the disputed Babri structure in Ayodhya. A year later, when election was held, Bhairon Singh was back as Chief Minister.

Few would remember it today but Bhairon Singh was the initiator of the most innovative anti-poverty programme. He called it Antyodaya and aimed it at the poorest of the poor. Every district magistrate was asked to identify the poorest families in each village, ask them what could be done for their benefit by way of sustainable income, and do it immediately. The programme was hugely successful and fetched him international applause. Robert McNamara, then World Bank chief, described Babosa as “India’s Rockefeller”.

Bhairon Singh was the quintessential politician who thought, breathed and lived politics. Yet, there were facets to his personality not known to many. Though he had little formal education, he was an avid reader and read anything that was published on the Constitution, from which he could cite chapter and verse. In his own way, Babosa was committed to the greening of Rajasthan. Whenever he had time, he would take off in the official plane to survey projects to stop the desert from encroaching and would be most annoyed if he couldn’t count the trees, which would be often if not always. “The next time we will go by car,” he told me after one such flight.

The other passion Bhairon Singh had was to promote the interests of the girl child in feudal Rajasthan. At every rally, every public meeting, he would tell the people how he had only one child, a daughter, and that she had made him proud. “You say that I am the only lion of Rajasthan. Although I have a daughter and no son, you still call me that. See, it makes no difference,” Babosa would say and the people would chant, “Rajasthan ro ek hi Singh, Bhairon Singh, Bhairon Singh!”

Politicians are by nature garrulous people who love to talk and are in constant search of listeners. Bhairon Singh could talk late into the night. But with Vajpayee he shared a unique relationship of companionable silence. He would turn up unannounced, walk into Vajpayee’s room, anybody else present there was made to feel distinctly unwelcome, and for the next couple of hours the two men would lounge around, exchanging stray sentences followed by long silences. On one occasion I accidentally walked in to find them in deep solitude, listening to Kumar Gandharv. But with Advani it was an entirely different relationship: The two leaders talked politics, discussed strategy and decided tactics.

Till the end Babosa remained a fighter. He fought the 2007 presidential election knowing full well he couldn’t win against the combined might of the Congress, the Left and the non-NDA parties. But he fought to the finish, accepted defeat gracefully and retired from politics. In his personal life, he fought and won two battles against clogged arteries and treated the bypass operations he underwent as no more than lancing of bothersome boils. The last battle he fought was against cancer. Had he been younger, he would have won this battle too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Do we need to know what Carla does in bed?

Where do you draw the line?

British tabloids invented the concept of Page 3, which would be dedicated to a barely clad, if at all clad, woman to titillate the working class. They also mastered the art of shocking, stunning, smashing headlines -- the late lamented Private Eye had a rollicking time with the pick of the week, spinning spoofs around them. I couldn't stop laughing at Private Eye's interpretation of a very memorable headline which most probably appeared in the inimitable Sun: 'My boyfriend ate my hamster!'

Political correctness has killed much of good-natured humour. We now live in an increasingly joyless world where anything that we say is open to perverse interpretation. The Feminazis are an unhappy lot; they make it a point to make others unhappy too.

But there are times when I am appalled by the trivialisation of 'news' and the pathetic attempt by media to palm off obnoxious tid-bits about the personal lives of movers and shakers as 'entertainment news'. Sex sells, but must we elevate it to the columns of mainstream dailies? Indian newspapers have been putting out stories on Carla Bruni that are neither funny nor interesting, but revolting. It's copycat journalism at its worst. Here's an example:

"The Sarkozys once kept a head of state waiting while they enjoyed a passionate love-making session..." And the details are nauseating.

Decide for yourself!

Root cause is political Islam

The banality of TV news analysis!

Those who abhor instant coffee, even if it’s a designer brand with a fancy prize tag marketed by Nescafe, would also have a distaste for instant news analysis. As with instant coffee — you take a spoonful, stir it into a cup of hot water, add some sugar and milk, and voila, your coffee is ready — so also with instant news analysis dished out by 24x7 television news channels: Get a self-proclaimed ‘expert’, make him sit in the studio with a couple of smug journalists who obviously have too little to do and a lot of time to kill, ask the most banal questions, get some bovine replies, and presto, you have news analysis!

The day after FBI agents and New York Police detectives grabbed Faisal Shahzad as he tried to board an Emirates flight to Dubai at JFK Airport and the Pakistani American admitted to having planted the car bomb at Times Square, which was spotted by a vendor and defused before it could cause death and destruction, television channels here in Delhi were tripping over each other for a piece of the ‘breaking news’. One channel had a former senior diplomat along with a Pakistani journalist on its prime time show, analysing what the anchor described as a “shocking” and “astonishing” disclosure — by the FBI agents and the would be Pakistani bomber with an American passport.

What’s so ‘shocking’ or ‘astonishing’ about the entire episode? Why should we in India be at all surprised or amazed or taken aback that a Pakistani (or an American of Pakistani origin, if you prefer) got caught trying to bomb Times Square? After all, Islamist jihadis of Pakistani origin have bombed other places and targets in other countries in the past and have not been particularly merciful (which is quite contrary to what the religion of peace and mercy is believed to teach its followers) towards fellow Pakistanis either. Nor should we forget that Faisal Shahzad is not the first Pakistani American jihadi; that distinction must go to David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani, shared with Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani Canadian who ran the Chicago cell of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

Much as Pakistanis living in denial would love to believe, it would be absurd to suggest that extra-terrestrials are to blame for the daily bloodshed in that benighted country. The suicide bombers on the prowl in Pakistan, looking for places crowded with women and children to blow themselves up, are not from Mars (or Venus, for that matter). Of course, like Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who we are now told fled with Benazir Bhutto’s stand-by car and security personnel minutes before she was assassinated, they would insist that Pakistanis who kill Pakistanis are not Pakistanis but Indians in disguise. But then, as an exasperated Pakistani journalist once told me, Mr Malik would have no compunctions about blaming India for his wife begetting children.

Recall the London Underground bombing of July 7, 2005 which was masterminded by Pakistanis based in Pakistan and executed with the help of British citizens of Pakistani origin living in Britain. Three of the Underground bombers were of Pakistani origin who had spent time at terrorist camps in Pakistan, seeking and securing guidance for becoming true soldiers of god, before they embarked on their deadly mission to further the cause of jihad. The fourth was a Muslim of Jamaican origin.

Recall also the repeated terrorist strikes in India, including the 26/11 slaughter in Mumbai (for which a Pakistani has just been sentenced to death), which were plotted in Pakistan and executed by Pakistanis, admittedly with the help of those Muslims in India who believe loyalty to the ummah and fidelity to faith necessitate treachery; our desi rage boys are known to justify their traitorous deeds by citing manufactured grievance. It would also be instructive to remember that in countries across the world Pakistanis have been either arrested for links with terrorist organisations or are under surveillance.

Ironically, most Islamic and Muslim majority countries either despise or are suspicious of Pakistanis. The ikhwan is reluctant to extend membership to the exclusive club to the legatees of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. While the ‘bad’ Taliban may find the ‘good’ Taliban useful allies in their war on innocents, it is doubtful whether they would relish the idea of breaking bread together. Variants of ‘Paki’, a term of abuse in Britain of the 1960s and 1970s popular among White racists who nursed a visceral hatred towards immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, have been adopted by Arabs in the Maghreb and Mashreq.

There is nothing to feel happy about this, not least because despite the overwhelming evidence of Pakistanis and the Pakistani political-military establishment being involved in global terrorism, there are a vast number of Pakistanis who are appalled by jihadi violence and have been forthright in disowning and denouncing those of their own who have blood on their hands. The mullah is not exactly an object of reverence in polite, decent, educated Pakistani society. To get an idea of what Pakistanis think of those who continue to fetch infamy for their country one just needs to read the editorial and opeditorial pages of the Dawn and the Nation.

An example should suffice: While media in India went into throes of ecstasy over a bogus Deobandi ‘fatwa’ against terrorism, in which everything but Islamist terrorism had been criticised and declared un-Islamic, Dawn had the gumption to call the bluff of Deobandis in Pakistan when they recently tried a similar sleight of hand. Based on my interaction with young Pakistani journalists, I would vouch for their opposition to savagery in the name of Islam. Stereotyping all Pakistanis, therefore, would be wrong and grossly unfair.

Which brings me to what the former senior diplomat had to say during the television programme hosted by the anchor who found it “shocking” and “astonishing” that a Pakistani should have been found planting a bomb in Times Square. According to him, the world should ask, and the Pakistanis should contemplate on, why all terrorists and potential bombers are from that country. Apart from being factually incorrect, his assertion also suggests that the root cause of jihad is the Pakistani identity, which is way off the mark.

Mohammed Atta, who flew a passenger jetliner into the World Trade Center, was not a Pakistani but an Egyptian. His fellow terrorists were of Saudi origin. In recent times, the underpants bomber who panicked when he saw smoke emanating from his crotch after he pulled the string, did not carry a Pakistani passport; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab alias Omar Farooq al-Nigeri is a Nigerian.

If we must look for a reason, then we should go beyond nationality and delve into theology. A lazier option would be to stick labels and be done with it. Just that this won’t help deal with the menace of Islamist terrorism.

[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on May 9, 2010.)

Saturday, May 08, 2010


My humble tribute to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.
25 Boishakh, 1417.

Hey nutan...dekha dik aarbaar...
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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Yatha praja tatha Raja

How steep has been our fall as a nation!

Bapu taught us simple living, high thinking. We must practice it. Then only will the nation progress… We have to do that.” And after quoting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, after preaching the lofty principle of simple living and high thinking, that is, after donning the garb of moral integrity, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, the leader of Rashtriya Janata Dal who used the most innovative methods to loot the treasury of Bihar till there was nothing left to steal, gave the reason why he and his party had decided to support the UPA Government against the Opposition’s cut motion on the General Budget. “It was the BJP which instituted cases (of corruption) against me and (my wife) Rabri Devi. Congress did not set the CBI on me,” Mr Yadav said, asking rhetorically, “And you expect me to vote along with the BJP?”

That was in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the Finance Bill on Thursday, April 29. Our honourable MPs listened to Mr Yadav explain why he did not support the cut motion. People in our wondrous land who elect Mr Yadav and his ilk to Parliament heard him. There are parliamentary records to prove that he said what would be considered shocking and outrageous not many years ago — that political support can be leveraged by not proceeding against corrupt politicians. Today we have come to accept it as legitimate mobilisation of support in Parliament; adharma has become the dharma of coalition politics.

The BJP/Left-sponsored cut motion was defeated by the Congress through the expedient means of cutting deals with three tainted leaders facing prosecution for amassing wealth beyond their known sources of income. The first to fall in line was Ms Mayawati who instructed the BSP MPs to back the Government. She would. Look at the sequence of events. On April 16, the CBI told the Supreme Court that it had witnesses on affidavit to prove that Ms Mayawati had forcibly collected bribes and would like to press ahead with prosecuting the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. This was reported widely in media. A week later, as the Congress struggled with stacking up numbers in its favour, the CBI told the Supreme Court on April 23 that it was willing to consider Ms Mayawati’s request for a closure of the case against her. By Monday, April 26, BSP MPs were enthusiastically supporting the Congress. “We are part of the Government. After all we support it from outside. How can we vote in favour of the cut motion?” a senior BSP MP asked. On April 27, the BSP formally announced its support for the Government and opposition to the cut motion.

Similarly, the Congress used the CBI, or rather promised not to use the CBI, to ensure the support of Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the two leaders of the unwashed masses who would like to see India slide back to the age of lanterns and bicycles while their kith and kin prosper on slush money, hush money, tainted money. In Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav’s lantern-lit Bihar fictitious cows chewed on imaginary fodder; in the benighted Uttar Pradesh of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ms Mayawati, children feast on mica-laden lumps of clay and then cry themselves to sleep.

The Congress, of course, has no compunctions about sleeping with the tainted and the sullied. After all, the pot can’t call the kettle black. With a hugely corrupt Minister raking in millions of rupees by handing out 2G spectrum in a Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister whose publicists insist he is the epitome of honesty, integrity and probity in public life, and having mocked at the law of the land to exonerate an Italian crook known as Ottavio Quattrocchi who was caught with his snout in the trough called public exchequer, the Congress really cannot claim to be any cleaner than those with whose support it remains in power.

It would, however, serve no purpose to point fingers at those who brazenly flaunt their taint or misuse agencies of the state for political gains. That they are elected to Parliament is a reflection of the larger rot in our society, the cancer that is eating into the innards of our nation: We the people have voted for them, we have done so because we accord caste, community and faith greater importance than national interest. The end result of our cynicism is there for all to see.

Mrs Indira Gandhi had famously sought to gloss over — her critics would insist she was seeking to justify — corruption by insisting it was a “global phenomenon”. Between then and now, we have internalised corruption and made it a part of our lives. Earlier there was this perception that poor salaries forced babus and policemen to indulge in corrupt practices. Salaries have increased by leaps and bounds, so has the level and quantum of corruption. This is primarily because politicians whom we elect to sit in State Assemblies and in Parliament, to govern the nation, are not above corruption and see politics as a means of self-aggrandisement.

And so the nexus remains secure and safe. Politicians collude with babus. Babus collude with contractors. Contractors collude with criminals. Criminals collude with politicians or, better still, decide to become politicians. The vicious cycle is seemingly cast in iron and cannot be broken; it has come to represent the ‘system’. Sadly, the people want it this way. Or else they would have voted out the whole lot and, drawing inspiration from the good governance instituted by Mr Narendra Modi, insisted that all of India, and not Gujarat alone, must shine.

Tragically, that won’t happen. Voters will remain polarised along caste, community and other such faultlines that divide our society and help perpetuate the raj of the corrupt. The self-seeking and expanding middle-classes will insist its interests are protected. The poor will be led like so much cattle by those who shamelessly feed on their misery to live in comfort. It is in no politician’s interest to bring people above the poverty line, so the number of those below the poverty line keeps on increasing: Nearly two-fifths of our people are now categorised as ‘BPL’.

Soon after he became Chief Minister, EMS Namboodiripad was asked by a journalist: “By when will the Communist Government keep its promise of taking electricity to every home in every village?” Namboodiripad looked aghast, and then shot back: “The day every house in every village has electricity the people will stop voting for us. You must be a fool to expect my Government to keep this promise.”

That was many, many decades ago. Much has changed in India since then. But voters, in a sense, remain unchanged. They still vote for politicians who they know will never keep their promise, who will lie through their teeth, who will stand up in Parliament and quote Gandhi and then sell themselves to the highest bidder or trade their vote in exchange of the CBI being called off from prosecuting them for theft and worse. If you don’t believe me, go back to the first paragraph of this column.

[This appeared as my Sunday column, Coffee Break, in The Pioneer on May 2, 2010.]