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Who’s afraid of Islam? A question Muslims could no longer ignore

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It’s not just France. It’s all over Europe. States might not have said it as openly as Emmanuel Macron of an “Islamist danger” but the rise of Islamophobia in the Old World is relentless. If you think sitting in Delhi or Mumbai keeps you a world away, it’s a dangerous delusion.

Let’s first speak in defence of Islam. Twenty years ago, West waged a “War on Terror”. Muslims could never rest in peace thereafter. My book “How United States Shot Humanity” details their tragedy. We don’t have to go to Crusades. Just two decades back is enough. Innocents died in far greater number than the dreaded; families in millions were uprooted; defenceless and homeless they headed for Europe; some could make it, many didn’t. Lives destroyed forever.

And this was not just foreign lands. At home the West set about putting their citizens under surveillance—Muslims far more than others. In Britain, for example, you are more likely to be searched and questioned if you are a Muslim. The air became thick with suspicion.

It struck a chord with Algerians and Pakistanis and Moroccans and Chechan Muslims who had made Europe their home after the Second World War. The Old World had been torn apart by the Big War. It needed rebuilding. Finances came from the United States. Labour from former colonies, many of whom were Muslims. Now they couldn’t see their fellow co-religionists ruined. Much before, thousands had headed from Europe to make cause with Islamic State (IS) in Middle East.

Societies in Europe were alarmed, they became wary of Muslim neighbourhood, discrimination began and the retaliation followed. Right wingers thought they had enemy next door; the feeling was reciprocated by the Next Door. One thing led to another.

The defenders of Islam thus claim their practitioners are being victimized. When State calls it “War on Terror” all Muslims, and not just Radicals, are put on notice. Innocents, living their normal lives, their kids in schools, their men and women in offices, began breathing toxic air. Hotheads take matter in own hands. The stereotype of Terrorism-Is-Islam is reinforced. When veils or Hijabs are banned in public, it’s seen as an attack.

The other side of the divide: Islamophobia

Those who have Islamophobia, have a different take. They can’t understand how could an author (Salman Rushdie) be hounded for years for what he wrote or why people are beheaded for cartoons. “Freedom of Expression” is the founding tenet of modern Western civilization. The State protects it. Its Constitution guarantees it. Are we to believe than that there is a parallel society, a society within society, which follows different tenets and the world knows it as Sharia Law? That they would follow what allegedly is written in their Holy Book and claim lives, walking over the Law of Land.

It doesn’t go with the idea of multiculturism which the West wanted to showcase to humanity. How could “freedom of expression under house arrest,” be acceptable?

For instance, it’s pointed out many Muslims have not tried to learn French in France; that they don’t send their kids to public schools, opting for “madarsas” instead; there is demand for separate swimming pools for their girls; and that’s how “separatism” is injected from the very beginning.

When Macron warns that “the problem is an ideology, which claims its own laws should be superior to those of the Republic,” it shouldn’t lead to condemnation by Erdogans, Imrans and Mahatirs of Islamic world. It doesn’t help. Certainly not your present and future generations who would be drenched in dripping blood. Instead, Macron’s words should lead to real. Just dismissing it as “Islamophobia”—as do “anti-Semitism”—is dangerous and self-defeating. Inclusiveness could only happen if both sides begin looking within.

Even if Islamophobia is decried, there is little doubt it has gained enormous currency in last two decades. You could ignore it but the elephant is in the room. France has 6 million Muslims, more than anyone else in Europe, so we could understand why right-wingers like Marine le Pen have such a persuasive influence. But others are no better. Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats for example now hold the narrative.

Half of Germany feels there is a “fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture. In Italy, the figures is 53%. In Finland a staggering 62%. Political parties have flourished on Islamophobia. Street demonstrations against Islam are everyday.

They call it “Counter-Jihad” ideology. Islamophobia networks have spawned all over. They offer some irrefutable logic: If Islam is not repressive, how do we term its treatment of women. How are we supposed to react to Chopping Squares. How are we to comprehend rulings where evidence, cross-examination and witnesses are dispensable.

Good Muslims would suffer, and I have said it many times, till they don’t oppose the Bad Muslims. Till they tell them that we have all the freedom to practice our religion at home and we are not bothered about others. We won’t take law into hands nor approve if radicals override the established laws. It’s not enough that 99% are good if they are handmaiden to the remaining 1%.  The future of Islam is in their own hands. Sense of persecution won’t help. Sense of responsibility would.

 

I await Pompeo not just for India but for what the two have to say on Taiwan

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It would be erroneous on the part of United States and India to show intent by way of meeting between their foreign and defence ministers—due in New Delhi on Tuesday—and lack purpose in ignoring the Sarajevo moment in the room.

In 1914, the first World War broke out after an Austrian prince and his wife were assassinated by a local Bosnian group in Sarajevo and it was the beginning of the new World Order. Another such moment awaits us if China, wholly unpredictable and raging mad, were to invade Taiwan.

Taiwan is small, an island, within the breath of Beijing, blocked and bullied all these years by the Mainland. It has stood alone in Covid-19 pandemic and if you thought it was the world which has made her recover, it’s the other way around. Taiwan donated 5.6 million masks to Europe which earned it the gratitude of Brussels. Yet the niceties are not enough. There has to be a resolve and an open one on the part of the World to let Taipei know: We Care.

So it’s all very well for the arriving US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to talk of “regional security in Indo-Pacific” but he needs to shout Taiwan within the earshot of China. And so does India. Taiwan is everybody’s business. For their own good if Taiwan’s democracy, technology, a thriving economy and a role-model-to-follow-on-healthcare is not enough. For all we know, Taiwan could be the first stop of China to test the world’s resolve and we all can’t be talking in circles.

Our leaders need to highlight how military sorties of Beijing are at an unprecedented level in Taiwan Strait. It’s in the same South China Sea which falls in Indo-Pacific and which China wants to make all of its own—and which has drawn world’s biggest democracies together. In 2020, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made 49 military aircraft sorties violating the Taiwanese space. It’s the highest ever. It’s defence minister told parliament that the Chinese military “conducted 1,710 aircraft sorties and 1,029 military vessel sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) this year.”

Truth to tell though, it’s India more than the United States which needs to brush up its Taiwan game. More than media or a zealous nationalist, it’s the Indian State which needs to come out in open as Beijing does for Jammu and Kashmir as a matter of daily drill. The United States indeed had caught our eye as their health secretary and under-secretary of state for economic growth have visited Taipei in recent months. It’s the first since they broke off diplomatic relations in 1979. It was a signature transitional moment in Taiwan’s brutalized history. It has been made sweeter now that the United States has committed an arms package of almost $2 billion to Taiwan, with a promise to up it to $5 billion in coming days. The military package includes missiles, sensors and artillery.

The Modi government shouldn’t worry of the consequences of coming out in open for Taiwan. It could conduct a popular poll if that is the fire which would propel our rocket of commitment. The United States, for example, has just done that. The US Congress always was in support of Taiwan. But now the US citizens are showing a remarkable preference to come to Taiwan’s aid if Beijing was to invade it.

Two studies have caught my attention. One was by Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) which has shown 41 percent o Americans backing US intervention on behalf of Taiwan. It might not sound much but given the tepid response of US citizens since the study began conducting its poll in 1992, it’s remarkable. The other one by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is even more remarkable: It shows up a support of 6.69 out of 10 for Taiwan which is more than even what Australia (6.38) could muster. Japan (6.88) and South Korea (6.92) were favoured ahead of Taiwan only in decimals.

People clearing their throats for Taiwan was one thing. The other influential nodes made no less buzz. The Thought-Leaders supported Taiwan’s military cause by a whopping 7.93 out of 10. Human Rights Experts too gave an overwhelming (57%) response in Taiwan’s favour.

So buoyed as we are at the possibility of inking the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the US and S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh beaming for the Indian audience, this is as good a moment as any to pop out Taiwan in public domain. It would be a pity of China was to test us out on Taiwan and we would show our preoccupation in Ladakh to excuse ourselves from the entanglement.

The world has enough blood on its hand in pampering the wolf and ignoring the lamb. Taiwan must be returned to the global fold with forgiveness on lips.

 

Is Covid-19 letting up out of deference to our Festivals? Or the worst is over?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I sought out Deepak last morning. I hadn’t met him for long, at least since my daughters still used to hold my hand and walk into his teaching institute nearby. Always above the board, energetic enough to be suitable for a protein ad, and good enough in maths for Rahul Gandhi to figure out how he messes up his numbers on public platforms.

Let’s leave aside why we met. Important for you folks is his Covid-19 experience which he contracted almost to the day when we responded to Modiji’s call to sound pots and ring bells. Every inch of his bones creaked, fever raged like a tropical storm and he thinks it was pandemic. “I didn’t know where to go, the tale of expenses was scary and here I was, in my one-BHK flat, with my wife, kids and old parents. I couldn’t separate myself from them, couldn’t afford treatment and left myself—and my family–in the hands of Gods.”

Well the Gods looked after him and his family. He is fine now but still complains of nagging pain in his ankles. He feels he avoided death not because he submitted himself to good hands but only because some die and some don’t to this scourge of our times.

Now we hear that Covid-19 is in retreat in India. But it is resurging in US and Europe. Ireland has reimposed a complete lockdown; Czech Republic, Spain and France have opted for similar measures; Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland are some of the worst hit. The United States is beginning to hit a lakh each and so it is with France. But India smiled on Tuesday with only 36,601 cases recorded the previous day. We might still touch 10 million by December but recovery rate is above 90%.

It’s the lowest in last 101 days, since July 17 that is. In September, we too were touching a lakh positive each. Now even Maharashtra is reporting its lowest in last five months. Asia’s biggest slums in its belly are beginning to chirp. Its another matter that Thackerays have now moved from one villain to Arnab Goswami and Kangana Ranaut but we would glean on it some other day.

Why Covid-19 is dipping in India? Before you scoff at India’s testing numbers, let me tell you its one million Tests a day done across India on an average for the last few weeks. Yet numbers are dipping. Hospitals which were overflowing with Covid-19 patients are beginning to have freer beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators. The laudable healthcare workers are even shooting videos of their dancing footwork and have one Hrithik Roshan swooning. Nurses are without PPT cover and gossiping. Intern doctors are again longing for those night shifts when the male-female ratio in whites is abnormally skewed.

Would it last? Our prime minister won’t like us to entertain such a devilish thought. He knows he hasn’t allowed Covid-19 to get out of hand—the proof is that even Rahul Gandhi has let go an issue which he could’ve harped upon for nine months. But Modiji is worried for festivals are upon us, congregations would happen on a Tablighi Jamaat scale (well almost), fairs would abound and shops would overflow. None of them could be restrained, for it’s a moment of cheer and some well-needed finances would come the way of shopkeepers and businessmen. But festivals would also onset winter, which is playtime for viruses in colder weather. Modiji has even got an official body to warn Indians that 50 per cent of them could be infected by February 2021.

I suspect there won’t be an upsurge. For the “herd syndrome” has already taken over us. There are 10s of millions of Deepaks in this country who haven’t reported the Virus to public. They have either survived—like Deepak—or died. None have come in the official count. If around a crore are to be infected soon, there are at least 20-30 crores Positive who haven’t submitted themselves to scrutiny.

It’s just not my suspicion. You might have ignored the news of a few weeks ago that one-third of Delhi already has antigen bodies. Half of Mumbai’s worst slums were declared to have been in grips of Covid-19. Away from news, this is the truth of Covid-19 in India. That the pandemic probably has run its course.

India’s numbers are not dropping because they have hit upon a wonder drug, or because our admirable healthcare staff have acquired a midas touch (well, from inside PPT that is), or Modiji has done any surgical strike on the Virus. It’s only because you and me, or most of us, have already had our brush with the pandemic.  And that this is a perfect moment when you could say: Ignorance is Bliss.

 

 

What is it that the Gandhis have against women: A father-daughter present their own villains

(A reprint from NewsBred).

I had just picked up my morning tea in balcony when my elder daughter tapped me on shoulder. “Would BJP stop at anything? Gender, patriarchy, misogyny—what do they have against women?”

She was drawing my attention to an Indian Express news where Nirmala Sitharaman, our present finance and past defence minister, had raked up a recent brutal murder in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. A six-year-old girl child of a Bihar Dalit migrant labourer has been raped, killed and her half-burnt body was discovered this week.

My daughter wasn’t amused that Sitharaman had chosen the gruesome murder to make some political points, like “Doesn’t it shake the conscience of the brother and sister pair (Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi) who rushed to every other chosen site…as if they were going (Hathras) for a picnic…But why not in Hoshiarpur? Why not if it (the crime takes place) is Rajasthan?…the pretentious Congress is nowhere…A woman heads their party.”

I wasn’t sure the bit in Sitharaman’s words which had offended my daughter till she drew my attention to another story in Indian Express. The “rejoinder” from Gandhi scion and the chief minister of the Punjab state, Capt Amarinder Singh: “Unlike in UP,” we are not “denying” the rape or “blocking the course of justice.” Amarinder was more lyrical: He found BJP doing a “political puffery.”

Well, that might be true. With first phase of Bihar elections due in a matter of hours, parties are jostling for political points. But leave aside politics, my girl, if it is gender, patriarchy and misogyny could we please look at Congress more closely please.

Till last year Congress had a high-profile spokesperson. Priyanka Chaturvedi commanded attention on media of all kind: Print, digital, social media etc. But she quit in disgust in 2019. She felt “hurt and self-dignity” compromised when her offenders, within Congress itself, were reinstated after being suspended briefly. “I put in 10 years (for Congress)…they ignored a woman..(I had put up) at a great personal cost, self-dignity…If I don’t (quit), it would let all those women down who want to join politics, raise voice.”

More recently Khushboo Sundar, a high-profile Congress spokesperson in South, quit Congress. She said she had given up her personal life to work for Congress in last six years but she has no option but to quit as she was being “pushed and suppressed.”

Let’s say, these incidents were ambitions couched in sexist pretence, I ventured to my daughter. Let’s also not make much of Rahul Gandhi’s “Come, Rape in India” remark in the Parliament which had led to a massive uproar. Mr Gandhi thought he was being witty when he said “Come, Make in India” is more like come “Rape in India.” The fellow women Members of Parliaments were outraged for they found Mr Gandhi being cavalier about a crime which leaves a victim with two options: Suicide or a living dead.

But let’s not deny that it was the kind of remark which should make gender-activists see red. A newspaper like Indian Express ought to have initiated a debate on the mindset of India’s wannabe Prime Minister. It’s no excuse that he is still a bachelor. He has women in family, his grandma was India’s iron lady. Rape can’t be a matter of wit.

If she wants she could give this another instance a miss, I proffered by daughter. Mr Gandhi was all pompous when he had said in Parliament last year that the prime minister had “got a woman (Nirmala Sitharaman) to defend him (Modi),” on Rafale deal. It surely smacked of patriarchy. A woman who is a model to millions in this country—try to see how Nirmala makes such earnest effort to speak Hindi, good one at that—can’t be ridiculed as if it wasn’t the Parliament but some Duryodhana’s sabha.

But no apology. No reprimand from their mother Sonia who has been at the “helm” longer than even Indira. No outrange or OpEd in Indian Express or The Hindu.  And if I could ask you my daughter how do you think they ought to have reacted to “haram-khor” jibe in their own coalition-run State to a young lady who has achieved more than arguably anyone in Bollywood? Did the Gandhis mind the threat to Kangana dare she descend in Mumbai ever or when a crane made itself comfortable in her Bandra room?

It was not the BJP but the Dalit supremo Mayawati herself who was angry beyond words at how the murder and rape of a Dalit girl in Alwar was “hushed up” by the Ashok Gehlot Congress government, as there are a string of other rapes which are occurring in Rajasthan even as Gandhis lost their shirt on Hathras. And when your former chief minister (Kamal Nath) mentions a sitting woman minister (Imarti Devi) an “item” should a perfunctory disapproval by Rahul be enough to cover the silence of Sonia and Priyanka? Has there been any consequence on Kamal Nath? Has Indian Express sought out Randeep Surjewala for his reaction?

I won’t go into what happened to the “Nirbhaya Fund” of a 1,000 crore which was set up by Congress in the aftermath of the terrible incident on Delhi streets. It remains under-utilized even by the BJP states. But the larger point is Gandhis indeed are convenient on women. Debating points, highlighted by predisposed newspapers is no shield.

So, when you raise banners against gender-bias, patriarchy and misogyny my child, I told my daughter, do keep a memory log. And could I have another fresh morning tea please now?

 

 

Anarchy has come home to roost in India: What options do BJP have?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Breakdown.

Is that what India has come to?

Most Indians are battling this conundrum.

This perceived breakdown, internal, is largely at two levels: (a) harmony between Hindus-Muslims; (b) Centre and state relations.

Both are interlinked. A power seemingly in perpetuity loses an election. And another. Both by a landslide. The winners are identified with majority. The losers with minority. The turfs have exchanged hands. It’s an existential moment for losers; like those countless in history where Czars and Caliphs came to rest in tomes and tombs.

Losers now rally their forces. It joins hands with those it was in fight with all these years. All the parts must matter in sum. It doesn’t. Those who made a meal out of caste politics in India’s heartland are uprooted; those who swore by Maratha identity sound like a hag’s croon; elsewhere in volatile Bengal, the monster-slayer Didi stomps ground, flashes eyes and fingers, yet barely keeps her head above the surging water.

The Winners are surer after second win. They know they have come to stay. They won on planks of development and incorruptibility. On keeping India First. So out goes Jammu and Kashmir and its armour of special status. Minority wakes up to post-Shah Bano world in Triple Talaq Act; Ram Janmabhoomi arrived at an opportune time; and then the long-standing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is approved by India’s chosen representatives.

So Losers can’t win people’s confidence. The judiciary too doesn’t fall to their mechanisms. Prepaid media is doing its best but little is changing on the ground. Their Samaritans in movies, culture, academics have little traction. The echo-chamber in West is drowning in its own noise.

Anarchy thus is the last resort. It’s always two-faced: One is led by the system. The other by the people. As I mentioned at the start: Break it down at (a) people; and (b) governance level.

Anarchy at the people’s level is your anti-CAA protests, Hathras, Farms Bills, Reservation stirs etc, etc. Anarchy at the governance level is passing resolutions against the Central Acts in your State’s assemblies; refusing CBI a peek into your vice-dens; protecting your favourite police officers even against the judiciary’s strictures; and ridiculing Governors every alternate day.

Uddhav’s Maharashtra is taking it to the next level. Mamata’s police was bad on cartoons on their leader (Uddhav’s too as ex-navy officer Madan Sharma would testify); it would land on doors at different States;  a journalist here and there; but Uddhav’s is booking the entire Republic TV network—claimed 1000 of them ! Kangana Ranaut was just a teaser it would seem. What next?

Some fundamental issues are stake in India. How far could this anarchy be allowed? The ruling BJP apparently has two choices. Let the masses know who are their enemies. It would teach them a lesson in due course. The other option is to exercise the power that the Constitution empowers it with: Dismiss state governments. The long rope which BJP has extended to Mamata Banerjee in the last six years conveys they would rather not do it and leave it in people’s hands.

BJP also knows what is noise and what’s substance. The noise is the ant-Farm Acts stir in Punjab led by its Congress chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. It could pass assembly resolutions but nothing would come out of it. The Punjab government is saddled with enormous debts and in the era of GST, you can’t trot your own horse when the whip is with someone else. You need Centre at every stage: Disasters and finances are one thing; telecommunications and security is another. More so in a border State.

It doesn’t mean that BJP ought to be at peace with anarchy. Mandate comes with responsibility. Anti-CAA protests led to Delhi Riots. They didn’t see Shaheen Bagh become what it did in the end. It made even Supreme Court helpless. The State must never be seen soft. India can’t afford it. All societies run on larger good. Those sloganeering “freedom”, “democracy” and “Constitution” don’t mean a bit of it. This chimera must yield to rule of law. Or it would persist in our lifetimes; and in our children’s. To horrific consequences if a malleable power was to come to Centre.

(Meanwhile, don’t fret on the welfare of Republic TV. Nothing would come out of it. Indians don’t like or even see somebody being browbeaten. More so by Powers. Brazenly. Mumbai Police has taken a bigger bite than it could chew. So, enjoy the drama but don’t miss your routine. The Karma would catch up with Mumbai Police and the rulers in Maharashtra).

 

 

I mean what’s your problem with “free” vaccine? Taking apart the charges, one by one

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

All hell has broken loose. For the BJP is promising free vaccination to Biharis ahead of the assembly elections. All muck-rakers usually in such situations are found in Indian Express. The order is set too: Randeep Surjewala. Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Farooq Abdullah, AAP come in that order. Mamata and Owaisi are catered day next just to keep the heat going. And yes, there is an editorial too. It’s a set matrix, a procedural norm, a codebook as it were. All comrades, be in red or covered in garb of Liberals, know the drill.

Man, when would I be serious.  It’s such a grave matter for people of India are being discriminated against. Didn’t the BJP say that it would cater to health-workers, co-morbid patients first? Who would fault a Mamata, Thackeray or Gehlot if they were to tell their people that you are paying the price of living in a non-BJP State? Where is equality and transparency in vaccine distribution? All this just for an election?

Let’s take the issue of “free” first. The process would be that Centre would buy the vaccine from the manufacturers and pass it on to the States on a subsidized rate. It’s for the States to offer “free” or “charge” its citizens. After all Health is a state subject. They could opt-in free-polio; they could stop Ayushman Bharat, as did Mamata’s Bengal. Bihar would give vaccine free. So would Tamil Nadu. And no other State would dare do otherwise. Who gains in these freebies? People of India.

And Bihar, by your own logic, should be the “first among equals”. I mean you shed bucketful of tears on the plight of migrants heading for Madhubani, Supauli etc .  You moved heavens if they bought train tickets for home. Your reporters and cameraman were virtually on India’s streets. Now the poor would get vaccine “free” and you have a problem. You call Bihar the poorest state in India; acknowledge that poor are the first to be guarded against the pandemic menace for they would lead to community spread. Yet you have a problem when something “free” is slipped inside their shacks.

Now what happens to health-workers and co-morbid patients? Those in the eye of Covid-19 menace? They would still be priority. Where has the manifesto said that Biharis would be given the priority. It would only be free. Not first. Why are you throwing wool over my eyes?

Now let’s look at the logistics and “science” part of it about which Express has given us a lecture in its editorial. The newspaper is pompous which it usually is in such moments. It finds BJP desperate and cavalier to science; not compassionate enough. I could imagine the editor in his glass chamber, hammering his keyboard, sipping a coffee or puffing out his cigar, and wondering when would India have a Pulitzer Prize of its own. I mean how long could one swoon over Ramnath Goenka awards, home awards as it were.

Man, once again I am off to cheap thrills—on a matter as serious as Covid-19 vaccine is and the BJP which is a power monster. I mean don’t BJP know like the Express does that Covid-19 vaccines would need to be stored at temperatures lower than those of MMR and other traditional vaccines such as BCG?

(You won’t know MMR and BCG. I didn’t too. Till Google informed me that MMR is “measles, mumps and rubella” vaccine and BCG is “Bacille Calmette-Guerin” vaccine for tuberculosis.)

Further, Express scares me that resources would need to be mobilized. That one is not sure if it would involve private sector and in what capacity. And that these issues are inextricable from those of equity and transparency (big words). It closes out with an appeal for required “discussion”–and a judgment passed that BJP’s move is “bad science, bad politics—and plain wrong.”

I don’t know how offering vaccine “free” to Biharis is “bad science.” It certainly is not “bad politics” for it would matter to poor.

And now that you find it “wrong”, I presume you mean BJP is bending rules to prevail in assembly elections, never mind the Election Commission finds it perfectly legitimate as it is a “policy” announcement. By “wrong” I guess you mean “ethical deviation” just for “power”—a charge which finds echo with the Opposition.

So, don’t you remember that free vaccination, free diagnostics and free medicines were promised by the Congress in 2019 elections? Why, they did the same in 2014 too  (That’s Anand Ranganathan informing us last night). You wouldn’t have questioned Congress then, nor did our Abdullahs and Yechurys and Rajas. But then selective memory is a wonderful quality: You could avoid questioning Congress on its duplicity.

Make up your mind on India’s poor, folks. I know migrants on foot trouble you, Hathras has you outraged. But don’t grudge them when a manifesto could save them from death. When it’s all-inclusive in Bihar: Everyone gets it; Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, SCs, STs, OBCs—everyone. Or say that you don’t like the idea of India aspiring to be a Welfare State.

 

So Modi’s men want to maximise India’s surplus land: Waqf Boards anyone?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I woke up this morning to the news that Modi’s men want to maximize its land within India. I mean it’s alright to secure our borders but what about the land lying idle in plain view?

So Railways, Telecommunications and Defence, India’s biggest landowners, are put on alert. Their surplus land are mere idle parcels begging for infrastructure and commercial attention. Figures are damning too.

Railways and Defence own more land than 10s of Palestines, the cause of which hasn’t let us sleep since 1940s. Railways has around 1.25 lakh acres of land lying vacant out of 11.80 lakh acres, Defence is even bigger, around 6.35 lakh acres. Then you have our BSNL and MTNLs. The surplus land of BSNL alone is worth Rs 24,980 crores.

BSNL would be the first to part with its excess. Next in line are BPLC, CONCOR, Air India and Shipping Corporation of India. Public Private Partnership (PPP) is mooted, Toll-Operation-Transfer is seen a win-win model for all. Why, the Union Budget 2020-21 had listed plans to monetize at least 12 lots of highway bundles of over 6,000km before 2024.

Waqf Board anyone? You can’t tell me you haven’t heard on them. I could understand you don’t know that ones across India hold at least six lakh acres of land worth $18 billion. But there ought to be something for the UPA government in 2005 had set up a seven-member Justice Rajindar Sachar panel which recommended an overhaul of waqf boards and which was given a quiet burial by our rulers and prepaid media. In 2013, the UPA government floated the idea of bringing waqf lands under the Public Premises Act. Nothing happened. Modi government has acted only to the extent that there is a Waqf Management System of India (WAMSI) portal. Some 5.56 lakh acres of land has found entry into the system. But what about half of Waqf lands now virtually owned by individuals? Where corruption and not charity is the order of day?

Let me first give a short primer on Waqf. By its definition Waqf, an Arabic word, is giving away of a property for charity by person of Islamic faith. It means, loosely, immobilization, in English. That is, it must not be sold or developed to earn profits. State Waqf boards guard these lands under the Waqf Act, 1995. In 2015, the Supreme Court directed all states to set up three-member Waqf boards to protect such property. In all there are 32 such boards across states and union territories.

A government estimate claims over half of the Waqf land are occupied by people who are not its legitimate owners. The issues in public domain are instances of a CEO of Maharashtra State Waqf Board found transferring land to a private developer for non-Waqf purpose; Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party trying to bring back a tainted MLA as chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board; and Delhi High Court snubbing the Delhi Waqf Board and Delhi government on an encroachment thus: “You cannot encroach even to house other people. Charity begins at home. So do charity at your home. You cannot encroach upon…it’s not permissible.”

Why, even Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, our minority affairs minister, has acknowledged of the existence of a “Waqf mafia.” A Reuters report confirmed the rampant misuse of Waqf properties.

The Centre cannot take Waqf land. It shouldn’t even think on the lines like it could with its institutions like Railways, Defence and Telecommunications. But it’s within its right to coax the State Waqf boards to follow the best practices around the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have no hesitation in calling them “Corporate Waqf Institutions.” There are professionally run management bodies which have developed Waqf programmes to manage and invest Waqf assets. If Saudis could do it, what stops our own Muslims unless the idea is to tease the Centre and thumb your nose at the cost of the country?

We are not even talking of taxing the God’s land. All that is needed is to clean up the encroachers and encourage Waqf boards to maximize its assets. Don’t tell me that fighting litigations (Ram Janmabhoomi) or poring over plans to build (Ayodhya mosque) is all that they (UP Sunni Waqf Board) could do.

 

 

If India Burns (Part II): No longer a question now that Nadda has thrown down the gauntlet

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

(This is the second part of “If India Burns”, a grim picture of coming days, a forewarning for all of our stakeholders: Majority, minority, government, judiciary etc. No less us, the ordinary citizens. I am excluding media for apparently it couldn’t care less. The first part could be read here).

This glimmer of hope which I mentioned in the first piece has been offered by JP Nadda, Bharatiya Janata Party president, who has announced in Bengal that Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has only been given a pause due to Covid-19 and that it would be implemented once it’s over.

Let’s admit, for or against, we all were traumatized for months by anti-CAA protests. I doubt if any one of us, in any part of the country, wasn’t held up by protestors on streets at least once. Even Supreme Court came down to public relations. No solution seemed feasible. Until Coronavirus intervened.

Now Nadda has thrown a challenge: Government isn’t backing down. Maybe, the Centre feels it won’t be taken by surprise. Maybe it feels it now knows how to deal with trouble-makers. Or with their chorus party of European Union, US Congress and the UN. “Urban Naxals” are facing the heat in our Courts; Khalids and Zargars face years in jail; Yogi Adityanath has worked out how to name and shame etc, etc.

But does the Centre know enough of how the “trouble” would respond? Have they got, as they say in cricket or in war, all their bases covered? Have they kept a watch on how protests have shaped in Hong Kong and Bangkok, not to say in the United States during BlackLivesMatter anarchy?

In Hong Kong and Bangkok, these are leaderless protests. No forewarning like you got in JNU, Jamia or Shaheen Bagh. A flashmob gathers and before the anti-riot police could bring in their water cannons, they are holding fort somewhere else, a fluid crowd as it were. “Be Water-like” is the guiding principle. Authorities could never be on top of their game.

So these days, they communicate in close offline chat. If it’s WhatsApp in India, it’s Telegram in our South Asian neighbourhood. You get detailed messages on how to pack and where to assemble. There is now goggles, umbrella, masks, sun-creams, water bottles and of course helmet in your backpack. Youngsters in their “rebel” age are enthused to be part of a converging, swarming mob of youth. They get overcome with emotions. To hell with the cause. The hide-and-seek with the police has its own thrills and a sense of accomplishment. Your friends are going, what are you waiting for?

Leaderless yes but it’s not to say that this ProtestNext generation is devoid of symbols. A “Milk Tea Alliance” has sprung up in our neighbourhood of Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Its aim is to spark protest across Asia: Like they did with “Arab Springs” in MENA (Middle East North Africa). Topple governments, cause anarchy and bring the region to its knees as Middle East presently is.

Milk Tea Alliance is around Thailand’s orange-hued tea; the less sugary Hong Kong version of the drink and Taiwan’s boba tea. The plan is to garner youth, swamp societies, create mayhem.

They have created their own characters too: animated ones like Milk Tea Girls which are emblazoned on T-Shirts of various colours and sizes. Youths who are not part of this fluid mob nevertheless wear it to show solidarity. Suddenly 100s becomes 1000s and that into tens of thousands. It’s on top of everyone’s head.

Then there is this three-finger salute (see image above). This has been co-opted from Thailand’s Hunger Game movie series. This gesture is for people, by people, from people who are facing injustice that the “protestors are in sync” with them. That they are all speaking for each other.

The drawn face-off first time in India would be different this time. The showdown is inevitable, more so since Modi government wouldn’t backdown what the Parliament has authorized and the Constitution demands. India’s protestors, while they vouch for democracy, sanctity of Constitution and supremacy of judiciary, would junk it in every action they do. So would our discredited politicians and prepaid media. It could be CAA one-day, farm bills next day and a Hathras next.

It would take some effort from the Modi government to be on top of its game: Nigh impossible in states like Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan and Punjab where law and order is in the hands of Opposition: Much like in the United States where largest violence and loot during the BlackLivesMatter protests happened in states controlled by Democrats. BJP won’t junk CAA, an assertion of its raj-dharma, but it would need to think on its feet: Its police, cyber cell, intelligence and enforcement agencies need be bigger in numbers, resources and resolve. That alone would douse the fire if India Burns which seems inevitable.

 

If India Burns: This death is a clue but we all can’t hear the footsteps of doom

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

You must not have heard of Samuel Paty. Well, he was the 47-year-old high school teacher who was beheaded in Paris for showing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in classroom on Sunday.

You must not have also known that France is on streets thereafter. Tens of thousands are streaming out on the roads of Paris, Lyon and Marseille (see image above) and its interior minister Gerald Darmanin is vowing to remove “the enemy within.”

Who is there to tell you that France has since conducted dozens of raids, cracked down on aid groups and is moving legislation to expel en masse foreigners of Muslim identity?

It’s a seminal moment in France’s history after Second World War, indeed of Europe, as the Old World, at least for the last two decades, has grappled with the growing Islamism within its ruptured society. France has now lifted the baton—and others would soon. We could all then write editorials on the rise of Right Wing.

Lest you see this as a problem away from home, and can’t see a corollary to the Tanishq ad, you need to pay attention. An advertisement is pulled down for millions of netizens protest on Love-Jihad. Newspapers are aghast. Artistes and advertisers are up in arms. It’s viewed as tyranny of right-wing trolls.

There are no questions if Love-Jihad is for real. That Hindu girls, marrying under Muslim Personal Law, have to convert to Islam. (And it could only happen in Mosque by an Imam). And that Islam considers it an apostasy—punishable by death—if you hide idols of your other “gods” under your closet. And dare the girl resist for under Muslim personal law, she would lose all her rights of property and inheritance.

But such debates never take place. Our newspapers look the other way. No OpEds. No those academicians and activists bristling with outrage. The same as it has happened to Samuel Paty. The same as it happened to Kamlesh Tiwari last year. Or in Bangalore riots more recently. There is an elephant in the room and we are looking away.

Newspapers, who file an RTI for a penny not gone to the account of a UP farmer, don’t probe. They delude themselves that anger of the masses would blow away if they ignore. That’s why be it Tanishq ad or Kamlesh Tiwari or Bangalore riots, there’s no internal debate. The wound festers till it eats away your internals.

That’s what happened in France. Charlie Hebdo in 2015 had shaken them. Samuel Paty has now taken them over the edge. Another Kamlesh Tiwari and this could well be our own fate. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. We could all then blame our newspapers for indifference, our governments for timidity and our judiciary for begging to Shaheen Bagh. Be it Hindus or Muslims, we both are ignoring the approaching steps of doom which would leave no one standing.

Good Indian Muslims, and that’s the majority, are captive to a handful. They must raise themselves and ask for Uniform Civil Code (UCC). They must insist that in India, there could be only two marriage codes: Hindu Marriage Act or Special Marriage Act. Muslim Personal Law can’t be its own island.  They must not fall for those images and videos of good Muslims which emerge in our media after an excess by their brethren. Like it did in Paris after Samuel Paty (see image below). These are shams and are meant to dress up the deeper rot which is eating up the vitals. Good Muslims don’t need Imams and Mullahs between them and their own Quran. Good Muslims can’t put rights above their duty.

Paris bears a likeness to Hindus. Like sporadic clouds in the sky which give way to cloudburst one fine day, sweeping the life below to drains of death, there are unconnected events which are leading towards a Hindu Collective. Some are unhappy that State controls their temples but not mosques. Some have a grouse that their schools are inhibited but not madarsas. Some cry foul that their religious travels are not subsidized and there is no aid for the marriage of their daughters. Then they prevail on Chhapaak. Then Sadak-2 is sunk even before it sees light. Then Tanishq Ad goes out of circulation. All these are rumblings of a cloudburst.

All this while our media barks up the wrong tree. Trolls and Andbhakts are the villains. The underlying malaise is ignored. A question goes abegging what happens if this power reflected on social media was to translate into our streets. What happens if an Indian Samuel Paty is followed by lakhs on streets, a severe government crackdown and indictment by their leader on “Islamist separatism” (Emmanuel Macron) and call by the equally popular (Marine Le Pen) for “a strategy of reconquest” and that “Islamism is a bellicose ideology whose means of conquest is terrorism.”

Who helps India when it burns? You and I can’t run up to media which chooses Hathras but ignores Lucknow; supports Tanishq Ad but doesn’t delve on Love-Jihad. An opposition run by foggies and discredited which lies through teeth and from both sides of mouth; a Centre which is hemmed in on every step it takes: from Aadhaar to GST to Triple Talaq to Farm Bills. A judiciary which is bound to cave in under the weight of PILs sooner than later.

We all are being swallowed by the inexorable flow of events. We could all be saved by a resolve, a glimmer of which I read this morning

(To be continued)

 

I am lining up for visa outside Taiwanese “embassy”: And you jolly well do too

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Well, well, well…I am interested in Taiwan. We all should be now that we know China doesn’t like it one bit.

Sure, I would save you some embarrassment if you can’t put your finger on world map; or if you don’t know if we have anything common but for China; or whether you could get a visa to visit its glittering capital Taipei.

;Don’t be dampened that India doesn’t recognize Taiwan. Nobody does except for 14 countries you hear about only when a tornado bursts through their shores. But business is rocking by other names. The jump in trade is 20% year-on-year so much so that India does it more with Taiwan ($7 billion) than with Italy, France, Japan, Korea or Saudi Arabia (beat that)!. India counts Taiwan as its 14th largest export destination and you could again refer to the nations mentioned and more. We have students in Taipei—I mean, don’t be startled when you are not on Indian students in Islamabad. There are restaurants, cultural exchanges, business delegations etc. Why, Sachin Tendulkar could be promoting cricket and Aamir Khan the Bollywood fare only if he could pull himself out of Istanbul.

These “ties” exist since 1995 when the two countries set up their representative offices in Taipei and Delhi. Call them “embassies” if you must (Delhi address: Taipei Economic and Cultural Center, 34, Paschim Marg, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi). That’s where you go first thing once Covid-19 is over and you have that itch of a foreign travel. The little island country could be mesmerizing for it has beaches, mountains, forests and a city-life which befits its status as a “developed” country.

Now you lazy bums might be wondering why we still don’t call Taiwan a country. Well that was out of deference to China (People”s Republic of China) who refused to recognize Taiwan (Republic of China) for its fallout in 1949 after the colonialists left and civil war ensued. Initially Taiwan claimed control over mainland China but Mao changed all that and now the shoe is in the other foot.

So China doesn’t recognize Taiwan, rather won’t let anyone do it too. Beijing calls it “One-China Policy.” India doesn’t recognize One-China nonsense (bravo) but saw no reason to stir up the hornet’s nest too when business-by-other-names with Taiwan was booming. It might change and it should, and we all could play a role in it. Trust me, Galwan or Tik-Tok won’t hurt China as much as if India was to recognize Taiwan! Imagine India doing so when United Nations doesn’t. I know it’s wishful but the sheer word-of-mouth would get the Dragon hopping mad.

Just recount last few days. First China issues guidelines to India media (phew) how to refer to Taiwan ahead of its October 10 National Day. I mean how stupid for this tribe, we call Indian media, doesn’t give even the State a damn. Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu belled the cat with his tweet: “Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!”

Sure enough, Indians smarted at this diktat. #TaiwanNationalDay began trending on twitter. Bharatiya Janata Party, nationalist that they are, didn’t miss the moment: Its’ national secretary (Y. Satya Kumar) greeted his “Taiwanese brothers and sisters” and its spokesperson (Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga) wished Taiwan a happy national day with a poster outside the Chinese embassy in the Capital.

Suddenly, Indian netizens were falling over each other in following Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen’s twitter account, leading for her to tweet several photos from her trip to India from 2012, including Taj Mahal. She didn’t forget to mention a “vibrant culture” and “kind people” of India. Next were Indian restaurants in Taiwan which found mention in her tweets. “How about sharing your favourite Indian dishes” gushed Tsai Ing-wen. Some PR maverick sure was at work.

Now the latest is that India Today TV has done an interview with the Taiwanese foreign minister which has got Beijing raging (see video section). I tell you what our TV stations: Forget about manipulating TRP ratings; just bring on Taiwanese biggies on your shows and you would not only have numbers but goodwill of the masses too.

India, Hong Kong and Taiwan have reasons to feel outraged on Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sure are spoilt by the success of measures it employs against its own people, no less on Uighurs. The era of bullies is over.

How about lining up in front of Taiwanese “embassy” and posting your pictures on Instagram? Don’t forget to send the link please. And do make sure you shout near anything Chinese: Be it embassy, cultural centre, Mandarin classes or China bazaars.