Saudi Arabia

Krishna’s aborted concert is no help to Modi or BJP

Carnatic vocalist Thodur Madabusi Krishna has been thrust into national consciousness because Airports Authority of India (AAI) has ducked its responsibility of hosting his music in the Capital. Look at it anyway, this shows the Modi government in poor light.

Krishna’s credentials in the music world are unquestioned. Also beyond a shadow of doubt is his spite against upper caste Hindus and the alternatives he looks for in Christianity and Islam. You could differ from him; but muzzling him is no alternative. If anything, it would only give him more traction and a gathering mass.

Salman Rushdie is a living proof that suppressing a voice only makes it more attractive. His “Midnight’s Children” might have been a tour de force but his global appeal lies because of the fatwa on him by the fundamentalist Islamic forces on his “Satanic Verses.” Most haven’t read him but everyone knows him. He kind of became a rallying force for free speech and freedom around the world.

The fundamentalist Islamic forces had laid down a line in the sand: you cross it at your own peril. No questioning of our religion, our tenets or holy book. They didn’t realize it showed Islam as regressive to the free world. That its’ reactionary forces were relying on “fear factor” more than a voice to reason.

Not that it didn’t work. Hardly anyone stood up for Rushdie. All the free world, top politicians, intellectuals, writers and thinkers were guarded in their support to Rushdie. Most admonished Rushdie that he should’ve been more sensitive to religious sentiments of millions. But the masses turned resentful to Islam and its’ hardline practitioners. It didn’t help Islam—only Rushdie and his bank balance. Possibly endowing him with an enduring fame.

More recently, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered allegedly by the Saudi Arabia government in its consulate in Turkey. If the idea was to silence a dissenting voice, the matter has backfired spectacularly for Saudi government. The world has risen as one, making Saudis change their stances on a daily basis and coming out the worst for it. For one Khashoggi dead, there are a thousand Khashoggis rising in its wake.

History has shown that governments have always feared a powerful liberal voice at crossroads with them. That’s why you have the adage: “Pen is mightier than the sword.” It usually pits them in conflict. It’s also true that authority is the only loser in this war.

Few have any doubts that Krishna was shut out because of his ideology. Few also doubt that trolls went for him. There is also little escaping that AAI developed cold feet. The government may or may not have had any role to play in this both tactical and ethical disaster. But the conclusion was inescapable: a government institution has backtracked and its bosses can’t escape the inference.

Renowned classical dancer Sonal Mansingh, who was due to perform in the concert, hasn’t helped the matter. She has written an edit piece in Indian Express today, suggesting the political agenda which masks Krishna’s music. She has recalled Krishna’s deplorable attacks on Narendra Modi in the past. That Krishna himself is on record of being not in favour of mixing music with politics. She has termed Krishna immoral and hypocritical for acting “as a vicious political activist and claiming the privileges of an artist.”

All this might be true but it still doesn’t address the central question in everyone’s mind. It’s fodder to critics of Modi and BJP and it embarrasses millions who term them progressive. All it has done is to make Krishna more attractive and a potential tool in the hands of liberal mafia. A self-goal if ever there was one.

 

Guha & Mander work overtime to keep Muslims away from Hindus

Ramachandra Guha and Harsh Mander began—and hopefully ended—“the minority space” series in Indian Express on Tuesday. On the Day of Judgment—for they would prefer such an option rather than the presence of Bhagwan Vishnu—the duo would be hard pressed to explain the deviousness of their heart; the venoms of their actions.

Over the last fortnight or so, Indian Express has almost daily pushed this “minority space” agenda on its edit pages. This stems from the fear of Left-Liberals that, God forbids, if Muslims—and Dalits—were able to recognize that BJP and Modi are their best friends, the last plank of their survival would sink and take them down too in the vast ocean of human junk and wastefulness.

The agenda of these two academic/activist charlatans is clear: Make Muslims fearfully conscious of their separateness from the Hindu majority so that they are further pushed into a seized mentality and a common ground with Hindus is never created. Create Hinduphobia so the Muslims are not able to see the deviousness of Congress, BSP, Left who have done practically nothing for the minority in the last 70 years. The idea is to deny Hindus and Muslims a common ground.

Guha and Mander would skillfully hide the fact that out of 125 Muslim-majority seats in Uttar Pradesh, 84 went to BJP in the last assembly elections. That BJP has 79 Dalit MPs, 549 Dalit MLAs and one Dalit president.

While they beat their breasts and bemoan Muslims being treated as second-class citizens in Hindu-majority India, you would never see them acknowledge that it was Muslims who plunged the dagger of partition into the heart of this nation. You would never find them question Asaduddin Owaisi as to when the latter swears by the sanctity of the Constitution, what problem he has with the protection it offers to cows; or when its core ethos ask for a Uniform Civil Code.

You would never see them encourage Muslims to let Hindus have their way with the Ram Janmabhoomi. After all, even in austere places like Saudi Arabia it is common to move Masjid out of the way, in case infrastructural or other such need arises. Why, just four years ago, there was even a proposal to move Prophet Muhammad’s tomb! After all, Quran ordains that Namaaz could be read anywhere, it doesn’t need a Masjid for the act. While Namaaz could thus be performed even on roads, there can only be one Ram Janmabhoomi. Guha and Mander would never ask Muslims to make this one small gesture and see the flood of goodwill which would emanate from the majority. Imagine how much strength and unity just one gesture could do to the idea of a unified and strong India.

Guha and Mander would never highlight the fact that the 1857 War of Independence was an act of revolt by the Hindus who nevertheless chose a Muslim—Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar—to be their leader in the struggle.

You would never see them making an appeal to Muslims to do meaningful reforms. After all, there is a great deal of truth that unlike Christianity went through a Reformation Age, and Hindus had the Bhakti Movement to cleanse the outdated practices, Muslims perhaps never quite clinically reevaluate if a few of Quran’s maxims needed a debate. You would never find Guha or Mander question the Muslim leadership on their lack of progressive agenda down the centuries to the present modern age.

Guha even bemoans that Hindus were once led by Nehru-Gandhi and now by Modi-Shah. He would never reflect if this change is because Hindus feel Nehru and Gandhi betrayed them and the nation during the Independence struggle by appeasing Muslims—which led to thousands of Hindus lives lost during the Khilafat movement and Direct Action Day– and causing the Partition.

Men like Guha and Mander would show a trishul as a sign of Hindu fundamentalism; they would never analyse why such a majority still treats three Khans as their superstars. Why an APJ Abdul Kalam is loved and respected by practically every educated Hindu.

Most tellingly, Guha and Mander are now marginalized voices because of their selective truths. Just look at the reactions Guha has managed on his twitter handle. By mid-day, it had barely touched 100 reactions. And most of them were scathing to his piece that has appeared in Indian Express on Tuesday.

A point about Indian Express too (And The Wire, predictably joined the chorus). While they pick up every major (Guha) and minor (Apporvanand) voice to create fear psychosis about “minority space”, why there is never an intellectual giant such as Subramaniam Swamy or Rajiv Malhotra being asked to present their viewpoints? Why stray incidents are picked and highlighted to paint the entire Hindu community in bad light?

Besides, who wins if India loses?

 

Chabahar is a real deal for India

For its commercial and political implications, the Chabahar Port deal with Iran marks the finest achievement yet of Narendra Modi’s global engagements.

The commercial implications are obvious—India was hemmed in by Pakistan’s intransigence to refuse direct trade between India and Afghanistan and China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision had the potential to clamp manacles on India’s ankles.

In one stroke, India has freed itself from the curfew and it could now entertain visions of trade and infrastructure links with Middle East and Central Asia and still further with Russia and Europe.

Let’s take up the bare details before we look at the wider implications and how Pakistan, China and United States, the other key players in the region, would react to it—Afghanistan, as we know from the history of Hindu Kush in the colonial times, is a prized land. So far it was its geographical location but now is the promise of immense mineral wealth which, according to Geological Survey of United States, could be worth as much as $1 trillion, due to its iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium potential.

Afghanistan, unfortunately, has always attracted predators who couldn’t care less about the welfare of Afghan people; who could go to any length to destabilize it in order to retain a degree of control over the cursed land. United States, on one pretext or another, stays put in the name of eliminating terrorism while, as everybody knows, promoting the same in cohort with Saudi Arabia, and not long ago, Pakistan.

The birth of modern terrorism occurred in the wake of Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan as United States planted mujahideens, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia providing men, resources and ground support. The country was soon in chaos, split between war lords of one camp or other, and the lure of illicit heroin trade, which by a conservative estimate is second only to oil and gas in volume, has kept them involved. They aren’t going to leave the country in our lifetimes.

Afghanistan thus has every reason to distrust Pakistan—after all its bête noire Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar were traced there—and by inference United States. It sure receives significant infrastructural aid from China but so tied are the fortunes of the Middle Kingdom with Pakistan that Kabul can’t ignore the political implications.

India has diligently nurtured its ties with Afghanistan. Since 2001, it has provided Afghanistan with $2 billion development assistance. In December last year, Modi inaugurated Afghan parliament built on India’s aid of 90 million dollars. It has contributed $300 million on Salma dam and hydroelectric power plant at Herat which Modi is expected to inaugurate next month. In 2009, India had built a 217-km highway costing $100 million that links Zaranj with Delaram, located on Afghanistan-Iran border. From there, the local road connects to Chabahar.

India has always worried over its energy supply, most of which emanates from the Middle East. It receives 57 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East which would only increase manifolds in the coming years.  Saudi Arabia is its biggest supplier but knowing the close equation between the Arab kingdom and Pakistan, India has always been keen to get Iran on its side. The latter, for this very reason—after all the Middle East conundrum is largely a tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for dominance in Muslim world—seeks a natural affinity with India. Both nations have close cultural and historical ties. Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century.

Chabahar is located on the Gulf of Oman, just 80km away from Gwadar which is the cornerstone of China’s pivot to Pakistan. Chabahar is just 299km east of world’s most critical passageway for oil tankers, the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran urgently wants this port to work as 85 percent of its seaborne traffic is managed by its Bandar Abbas port in the Strait of Hormuz. However, this port can only handle 100,000-metric ton ships. Large ships first offload at the Jebel Ali port in the United Arab Emirates en route to Iran. In contrast, Chabhar is a deep-water port and could process large ships. Chabahar would also allow both India and Iran to access large parts of Africa, Asia, Arabia and Australasia.

India has so far committed $500 million on the Chabahar project. It’s also assisting the 500-km rail link between Chabahar-Zahedan-Zaranj. The free trade zone of Chabahar could also encourage investment by its industries in urea, smelter and aluminium etc. In 2012, India had already used the port to transport a 100,000 metric ton shipment of wheat to Afghanistan.

According to the JV plans, India will develop two berths in Chabahar, one to handle container traffic and the other a multi-purpose cargo terminal. The MoU includes the sea-land access route to Afghanistan. India has plans to build a road-railroad network from Chabahar to Milak in Iran which in turn would link up the Indian-built 223-km Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan.

India has also allayed worries on Iran’s part over its pending $6.5 billion payment. It has begun the process of payment in Euros, as requested by Turkey’s Halkbank. A cash-strapped Iran urgently needs investment and repayment of dues.

It’s a win-win all situation for all three nations. Both India and Iran are surrounded by hostile powers; both need avenues to grow. Afghanistan would finally be able to access the Indian Ocean.

Don’t expect United States to sit and watch this alignment of India-Afghanistan-Iran to take shape. Already we hear of encroachment of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. US could again find a reason to impose sanctions on Iran. India too remains handicapped by its financial and regulatory hurdles.

But such is the opportunity in front of India, Afghanistan and Iran that one expects Chabahar Port to be a reality soon enough. There sure would be hurdles and interventions, but the three must stand together for their own good.