Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Upswing in relations with Israel

Mark Sofer, Israel’s Ambassador to India, is returning home after completing his tenure. During the four years he has spent in India, our bilateral relations with Israel have grown and branched into new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation

Four years after he arrived in India as Israel’s Ambassador, Mr Mark Sofer returns to his country, leaving behind a large number of friends and well-wishers and carrying with him happy memories of his stay here. During these four years India-Israel relations have gathered speed and branched into new areas of cooperation that are mutually beneficial. There has been a quantum leap in bilateral trade. Once the Free Trade Agreement is inked, hopefully by the end of 2011, trade could treble in a couple of years.

“I am returning to Israel with a great deal of optimism about our relations with India,” Mr Sofer told me when we met recently. “There are two reasons why I say this. First, there is tremendous goodwill across India towards the state of Israel. This goodwill is not just something that is spoken about, it is actually felt. Similarly, there is tremendous goodwill in Israel for India. Second, there is something special about India: It is the complete and utter lack of anti-Semitism. There is no a priori negative reaction towards Jews,” he said by way of elaboration.

To read excerpts from my conversation with Mark Sofer, click here.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

RIP, News of the World

But what about our desi media?

When it was launched in London on October 1, 1843, the promoters of News of the World were absolutely clear about what the paper would not be: A dull, high-brow publication meant for the country squire and his fox-hunting mates to pander to their snobbery and pretentious intellectual superiority. The toffs had their The Daily Universal Register which later metamorphosed into The Times and The Sunday Times and other such newspapers that catered to the posh. What was needed was a Sunday tabloid that would connect with the masses, or more specifically, the neo-literate working classes, and fulfil the need to titillate their imagination and their curiosity about salacious details of the personal lives of those who lived the rollicking high life, as well as stuff that the vicar would rant against during his Sunday sermon and admonish his parishioners about, unfailingly reminding them of the Biblical warning that strait is the gate and narrow is the way. If he knew of the tasteless, ale-sodden jokes that were spun around ‘strait’ and ‘narrow’ and which would raise guffaws of crude laughter during drunken revelry at pubs on Sunday evenings, he preferred to ignore them.

Hence was born the News of the World which grew into Britain’s largest-selling Sunday tabloid, flush with more than raunchy tittle-tattle about the rich and idle and the naughty deeds of ‘street walkers’ and ‘immoral women’ with appetites that would shame both Samson and Delilah. And so it remained till its closure today (July 10,2011), a full 168 years after its launch, in circumstances that either the paper or its owner, the redoubtable media baron Rupert Murdoch, could have ever imagined. The tabloid remained true to its creed till the end — News of the World: The Best for News, Showbiz and Sport Exclusives... Just that there was little or nothing of ‘news’ as most people understand the word, and a lot of ‘showbiz’ — who’s sleeping with whom — and ‘sport exclusives’ — what the footballers’ wives have recently been up to while their husbands chased skirts at Chelsea.

Here’s a sample of headlines from the paper showcasing ‘showbiz’: “Broke star Katona is going back to ex Dan Foden”, “Single parent Elizabeth Pearce made history by having the first IVF tot paid for by NHS — but is it right?”, “Birthday pic proves Cheryl’s taken Ash back; She does sexy lap dance for cheating ex-husband before they disappear to hotel room”. And, not to forget the ‘sport exclusive’ for which the paper’s readers presumably eagerly waited for Sunday to dawn, “Cheeky mates show off Lamps’ Chelsea buns; Footie ace’s pals pull down his swimming trunks while on holiday with fiancee Christine”. Sunanda K Datta-Ray, a columnist with this newspaper and my editor at The Statesman, descended from The Englishman and whose pages were used for wrapping fish-and-chips at the annual Calcutta Rowing Club race in an in-your-face display of inverted snobbery every time the ship carrying the month’s copies of The Times was late, had the perfect description for tabloids like the News of the World and the Sun given to servicing the base urges of the lowest common denominator of the British underclass: He would call it tits-and-bums journalism.

Read the rest of this article here, my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer…

Thursday, July 07, 2011

India awaits NaMo

The juggernaut moves on

The venerable Economist has finally taken note of what is common knowledge in India: Gujarat is racing ahead of the rest of the country. The credit for Gujarat's booming prosperity which has benefited all communities (Muslims included, lest the point be missed or lost in the cacophony of Left-liberal rant)should go to Gujarati entrepreneurship and Chief Minister Narendra Modi's visionary leadership.

Here are two telling excerpts from the report, headlined "India's Guangdong",published in the latest issue of the Economist:

These days Gujarat accounts for 5% of India’s population but 16% of its industrial output and 22% of its exports. Its growth has outpaced India’s (see chart) and it wins accolades from business people. A recent comparison of Indian states by McKinsey, a consultancy, waxed lyrical about Gujarat. It might yet play the role of industrial locomotive for the country, as Guangdong province did for China in the 1990s. There is lots of excited talk about exporters switching from China to India...

Gujarat could be a vision of India’s future, in which manufacturing flourishes, soaking up rural labour. Its economy is expected to grow by double digits, even as India’s rate slows to 7-8% this year...

The Congress, of course, would brush aside the Economist's assessment, insisting 'poverty in an entitlement-driven India is better than prosperity in a entrepreneurship-driven Gujarat'. Recall how the party and its pseudo-secular drum-beaters, among them the Left-liberal intelligentsia and the intellectually bankrupt Delhi Commentariat, once argued that 'corruption is better than BJP' while propping up the Jungle Raj of Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar.

I can almost hear Teesta Setalvad and Arundhati Roy ranting -- the first in television studio debates which increasingly look like WWF matches, the second through 10,000-word essays in Outlook and Frontline -- that it's all a Right-wing conspiracy. What would the poor (and I don't mean so literally) sods do if India were to say goodbye to all that is wretched with our economy, and hence our society and polity?

[Narendra Modi at India Today Conclave 2011. Watch 2:44 onwards.]

It's a pity that the Delhi4 are yet to recognise what the world has begun to hail as India's biggest (and only) success story since 2004: NaMo's leadership and its consequent bounty of riches for Gujarat. And reconcile themselves with the reality. But then again, D4's reading habits are restricted to Times of India, possibly Hindustan Times, and Dainik Jagran. These publications provide stimulating fodder for their addled minds.

Meanwhile, our 'economist' Prime Minister should check out the latest issue of the Economist for a reality check on which way is India headed under the NAC's tutelage and which way is Gujarat headed under NaMo's leadership.

[Also see 'Gujarat shows astounding growth in female literacy': NaMo leads from the front to educate the girl child. By Ashiya Parveen.]

Monday, July 04, 2011

Radical Islamism Down Under

Muslims must resist democracy, says Hizb ut Tahrir

The various statements and speeches made at the ‘Uprising in the Muslim World’ conference organised by Hizb ut Tahrir in Sydney on July 3, 2011, provide an insight into the radical Islamist mind that has come to dominate community discourse ever since this year’s ‘Arab Spring’. Clearly, the dislodging of long-time rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, and the effort to squeeze out the Presidents of Syria, Yemen and Libya, are not seen as the first step towards establishing democracy, but the restoration of ‘Khilafat’.

Community leaders aligned with Hizb ut Tahrir spoke on ''The Muslim World in the 20th century: Totalitarian Western oppression'' and ''Western endeavours to frustrate the Islamic revival''. The official statement issued by Hizb ut Tahrir says among others, the following point was ‘established’:

“The Muslim World wants Islam, not secular liberalism. The spin to the contrary is persistent yet hollow. Calls for ‘democracy’ have been misconstrued by some and hijacked by others as being calls for liberal democracy as we know it in the West. They may be such for the small minority of secular elite in the Muslim World, but for the vast majority of Muslims they merely represent calls against dictatorship and for representative and accountable governance. Public opinion in the Muslim World on the role of Islam in society is not a controversial matter at all. All those who are politically active on the grassroots level, as we are across the entire Muslim World, know that the people en masse are in favour of change on the basis of Islam.”

Hizb ut Tahrir is proscribed in Germany for preaching and practising anti-Semitism. Russia declared it a criminal organisation in 1999. The group rejects democracy and urges Muslims in Australia to boycott elections. A similar stance is adopted by the group in Britain.

A perusal of what was said at the Sydney conference will show how utterly wrong the Left-liberal commentariat is in its assessment of the Arab street. But the Left-libbers won’t admit that they have got it all horribly wrong. As is their wont, they will insist that they are right, never mind the evidence to the contrary.

Ironically, it is the Left-liberal intelligentsia’s adoring indulgence of their excesses that has emboldened radical Islamists around the world, including in Australia. The Left-libbers’ urge to rationalise Islamist extremities and justify their outrageous utterances as well as deeds has led us to a situation where we can only watch in horror as the vitriolic campaign of hate of groups like Hizb ut Tahrir gather momentum and gain traction.

Australia is not alien to such provocative Islamist utterances. The former ‘Grand Mufti of Australia’, Sheikh Taj al-din al-Hilali, wanted for inciting terrorism in the country of his origin, Egypt, is given to describing women who do not wear the burqa as “uncovered meat” and blaming them for “enticing rapists”.

On one occasion, while addressing the faithful after Friday prayers at Lakemba Mosque in Sydney, Sheikh Taj al-din al-Hilali rose to the defence of a serial rapist, Bilal Skaf, asserting, “If I come across a crime of rape, kidnap and violation of honour, I would discipline the man and teach him a lesson in morals and I would order the woman to be arrested and jailed for life. Why? Because, if she hadn’t left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn’t have snatched it... If one puts uncovered meat out on the street or the footpath or the garden or the backyard without a cover, then the cats come and eat it. Is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat?”

[Related article: Like 'uncovered meat']

Also see my earlier post: Veil of darkness