Friday, 31 October 2014

Kiss Day: Kerala's not ready for this

'We have the freedom to kiss' - from the Kiss of Love Facebook page
Protesting against an attack on a café in Kozhikode (in north Kerala), a group of youngsters has pledged to assemble at the Marine Drive in Kochi on Sunday (November 2) to celebrate ‘Kiss Day’. The Facebook page of the group, Kiss of Love, has got more than 20,000 likes but that’s about it. It would be tricky to read too much into this. Social media responses are seldom a barometer for change. A one-line description on the page reads: Moral Policing is a criminal activity. Most of political parties and religious organizations tries [sic] to do that.
So come Sunday evening, will Kochi witness a desi version of a kiss-a-thon of sorts? Probably not. The group has its heart at the right place but not its head (or in this case its lips). And that’s because Kerala is not ready for such a change. For all its high rates of literacy and health indices, the social Kerala is still conservative, highly patriarchal and stuck in an era where women are not considered equals and are not respected. Religious institutions will not be comfortable with such a move and are likely to oppose such a public display of affection.
Irrespective of whether Kerala will muah-muah on November 2 or not, one thing is certain — this is not going to change the social and cultural fabric of God’s Own Country. For so deep are the roots of patriarchy in Kerala. A good reflection of this is Kerala’s attitude towards women, especially the way it treats its women celebrities. As long a woman celebrity works within the defined boundaries of ‘culture’ she is seen as an embodiment of virtue. The moment she breaks from that norm, she is ridiculed and her fall from grace is accompanied by aspersions on her moral character. The average Malayalees change in attitude towards Ranjini Haridas, a famous stage-show host, is a case in point.
However, the protest will have political repercussions. The ‘Kiss Day’ gives political parties with a religious leaning an opportunity to further their role as protectors of ‘Indian culture’.
Generally women who speak their mind in Kerala are seen as outspoken — and that’s no pat on the shoulder. The Malayalam term used to describe ‘such’ women is 'ahangaari' — when translated it means arrogant and carries a lot of spite and venom.
Kerala, just like many other states in India, needs to fight against the growing menace of moral policing, but this Sunday is unlikely to start that much-needed revolution. Kerala will not kiss and tell — at least not this Sunday.
(This appeared in the Hindustan Times on October 29)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Million March: Bilawal Bhutto’s desperate attempt to revive his party backfires

Bilawal Bhutto
Kashmir is always a nice fallback issue for politicians of all hues in Pakistan especially if they are not doing too well at home. So it was no surprise to see the non-starter Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto trying to pull out this hoary old chestnut on Sunday in London. In what was billed as the ‘Million March’, Mr Bhutto tried to rouse a crowd of people by raving about India’s ‘human rights violations’ in Jammu & Kashmir. But the drama did not go according to script as the crowd pelted him with eggs and tomatoes. In September, in a desperate attempt to revive the PPP, the young Bhutto vowed to reclaim every inch of Kashmir. Not to be left behind, former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf also came out boasting of the Pakistani army’s capabilities of attacking India. In a country where its all-powerful army’s raison d’être is its enmity towards India, ‘India-bashing’ is the best way for politicians to remain relevant. The recent sabre-rattling by these discredited politicians must be seen in this light.
From 1947, Pakistan has repeatedly tried to raise the ‘Kashmir issue’ and fought three wars over Kashmir. The anger against Mr Bhutto could also have been a result of political rivalries within Pakistan. But the moot point is that Islamabad refuses to accept reality. Instead, it has turned a blind eye to the terror factories operating in PoK and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, is aiding and abetting terror groups, like the LeT and JeM, etc, to spread terror in India. Its repeated attempts to internationalise the ‘Kashmir issue’ have failed, with the United Nations and many countries stressing that India and Pakistan must resolve the issue at a bilateral level.
Pakistan must conduct itself with dignity if it wants to earn the respect of other nations. Its leaders would do well to talk about the real issues affecting the country, like its economy and security. Jammu & Kashmir will hold assembly elections in the next two months and it is expected that the people of the state will repose faith in India’s democratic system as was done in 2008. Pakistan has wasted more than six decades of its existence trying to foment unrest in the Valley. Meanwhile the terror groups it has nurtured have come back to bite it. The Kashmir issue is one of diminishing returns as hapless Bilawal’s experience showed.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Jaya should not encourage Tamil Nadu's 'suicide frenzy'

AIADMk followers crying outside the party office, Chennai (IBNLive photo)
Taking one’s own life because of the misfortune suffered by a political leader or a public personage is nothing new in Tamil Nadu, or even Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. So it came as no surprise when, according to the AIADMK, 193 people committed suicide on hearing of then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s brief incarceration in a Rs. 66-crore disproportionate assets case. But in what seems like a gesture condoning these deaths, the AIADMK leader has announced a cash relief of Rs. 3 lakh to the families of those who died. It does not end here. She also announced a payment of Rs. 50,000 to the three who tried to commit suicide. Attempted suicide is a criminal offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code and so in effect Jayalalithaa is supporting a criminal act. To be rewarded for showing such ‘devotion’ to a leader will only encourage this pernicious trend.
When former TN chief minister MG Ramachandran died in 1987, around 30 of his followers were alleged to have committed suicide. When Kannada actor Rajkumar died in 2006 there were rumours that many of his followers had taken their lives. When the then Andhra Pradesh CM YSR Reddy died in a helicopter crash in 2009, there were reports that more than 100 people died of ‘shock’. In a sub-culture where the popularity of a leader is measured by the vandalism his/her followers indulge in or by the number of followers who either hurt themselves or commit suicide when their leader suffers a setback or has died, the AIADMK’s gesture may seem perfectly rational to the faithful. The move appears to be an attempt by Jayalalithaa to exploit the sentiments of the people. More dangerously, her ‘generosity’ comes across as a reminder to her followers that mindless devotion will be compensated.
Jayalalithaa is a popular leader who enjoys enormous support in Tamil Nadu. As a progressive leader, she should have no truck with this practice and should take steps to end this trend. She is an able administrator and has done commendable work for the disadvantaged. But this is a blot on her copybook which she must erase without delay.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

'Europe asked Assad to make sure its citizens don't return after jihad in Syria'

It's been more than three years since the civil war broke out in Syria. Opposition groups of more than 100,000 rebels with over 83 nationalities have been fighting the Bashar al-Assad government.

In an interview to Viju Cherian, Syrian ambassador to India Riad Kamel Abbas claims that Britain, France and Germany asked the Syrian government to 'take care' of its citizens who have been radicalised and fighting in Syria. If Abbas' claims are true, the David Cameron government, along with François Hollande's and Angela Merkel's, has asked a foreign government to execute its citizens.

Abbas also claims that US interest in controlling the supply of oil in West Asia has led to the civil war, that the US encourages Boko Haram to keep a tab on Russia, and that it was the Qatar emir and Saudi Arabia's Bandar bin Sultan who were behind the two chemical attacks in Syria in 2013.

Riad Kamel  Abbas
Over the past few years, Syria has been in the news for a civil war and resistance forces have been attacking the Bashar al-Assad government. According to the government, what's happening in Syria?

The protests in Syria have got so many aspects - cultural, political, social and, mainly, economical. The primary problem started after the discovery of huge gas reserves in Syria in 2010, both offshore and on land. Another reason was the United States' plan to have a gas pipeline from Qatar through Syria to the Mediterranean to economically fight Russia by exporting gas and oil to European countries. The US also wants a similar pipeline from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Syria is against the US project and the US and its allies have created unrest in Syria to topple the current regime. They want to install a government in Damascus that favours their plans in the region. The US wants to control the oil market.

Was there social tension between different religious or sectarian groups within Syria before 2010?

Syria is the only Arab secular country in the region. The US and their regional allies are trying to create a sectarian divides in Syria. But they will not be able to do so because the people of Syria are against Wahhabism. Sunnis are a majority in Syria but they, along with other sects and religious groups, are supporting the government.

If the people of Syria are with the Assad government as you say, then who are the people who are fighting the civil war?

Most of them are foreign nationals. Many of the Syrians who are part of the resistance are people wanted in Syria for breaking the law. We are fighting more than 100,000 mercenaries from across 83 nations. These people have support from the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

How is the Assad government addressing this problem?

How can we talk democracy to the Europeans, Pakistanis and West Asians who have come to fight in our country? We are talking to them by using force.

What is Qatar's interest in toppling the Assad government?

Qatar does not have an independent policy - they listen to what the US says. As far as Syria-Qatar ties go, years ago there were cordial ties. But ties broke when President Assad refused to join hands with Qatar to support US' attack on Libya. The Qatar emir personally called on President Assad in Damascus to request his support, but Assad refused.

…and Syria's ties with Turkey?

The Turkish Prime Minister called on our President in 2010 and told him that following the developments in Tunisia and Libya, he would advise Assad to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to join the Syrian government. Our President refused the idea stating that there was no place for a religious party in Syria.
 When Qatar's and Turkey's requests were turned down, they started creating problems.

You had said that al Qaeda is a US creation. Could you explain?

Armed opposition appeared in Syria after the US took a stand against Damascus. Where the US moves al-Qaeda follows. The US moved to Iraq, al Qaeda followed, and now the US is focusing on Syria and suddenly we have the organisation in Syria.
Similarly, Boko Haram in Nigeria is funded by the US. Russian oil giant Gazprom signed a deal with Nigeria for extracting and transporting oil. Right after this deal was struck, Haram gained strength and has created unrest in the country. This cannot be a coincidence.

You had also mentioned that ISIS is a US creation.

ISIS is a branch of al Qaeda which was created by the US. Al Qaeda is under different names in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. It's like the Muslim Brotherhood which goes in one name in Turkey, another in Tunisia and yet another in Egypt.

You had mentioned that European countries had approached the Assad government to 'take care' of Europeans who have been radicalised.

Intelligence chiefs of some European countries like France, Germany, Denmark and Britain had approached the Syrian government with a deal that if the Syrian government would 'take care' of radicalised Europeans fighting in Syria, Europe would not press charges of human rights violation against Syria. But our government said no to the offer. Out government said that if anyone was ready to surrender, he would be given amnesty and sent back to his country. Some of them who had surrendered were sent them back the way they came into Syria - through Turkey.
A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's
Shaam News Network after the Damascus attack
Has Syria's chemical weapons programme and the two attacks on civilians that took place in 2013 created a fear among its neighbours?

There have been two chemical attacks on Syrian civilians - one in Aleppo (March 2013 Khan al-Assal chemical attack) and the other in Damascus (August 2013 Ghouta chemical attack). The Aleppo attack was carried out by Qatar and Turkey. US President Barack Obama had said that Syria was not supposed to cross the 'red line' of using chemical weapons on its people. So the Qatar emir sent two of his intelligence officers to Yugoslavia to procure Sarin gas - as both Syria and Yugoslavia got their chemical weapon know-how from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Damascus had informed Moscow about Doha's plan. The Qatari agents handed over the gas to Turkish intelligence who trained al Nusra rebels how to use it. The rebels carried out the attacks in Aleppo.

The Damascus attack happened the day UN inspectors were supposed to visit the Aleppo attack site. It was later found that the second attack was carried out by Saudi Arabia. Bandar bin Sultan, who was the then director general of Saudi Intelligence Agency, had given this to jihadi fighters in Syria to use it on senior officials and accuse the Syrian government for the attack.


'ISIS is an American myth'

Many European countries — including France, Germany, Denmark and Britain — have asked the Bashar al-Assad government to ‘take care’ of Europeans who have been radicalised and are fighting in Syria.
These startling revelations were made by the Syrian ambassador to India, Riad Kamel Abbas, on Wednesday. “Intelligence leaders of many European countries came to Syria to meet officials”, Abbas said, and offered to not press charges of human rights violation on the Assad government if Damascus made sure that they (European citizens fighting in Syria) did not return to Europe. They fear that these fighters might return to their countries and radicalise more people at home.

Speaking at an interaction with the media arranged by the Indian Women’s Press Corps in New Delhi, Abbas was critical of the role of Turkey, the US and its West Asian allies. “ISIS is an American myth, which gets direct support from Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and is funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar”.
“Al Qaeda appeared in Syria after the US invaded Iraq. Before that there was no al Qaeda in Syria. It is clear that al Qaeda was created by the US and it is supporting ISIS.” Abbas also said that the UN was not helping Syria and is under the US’ control.
As fierce fighting is underway in Kobane, Abbas expressed little hope in the government in Ankara.
The ambassador, however, appreciated the Modi government’s stand of not joining the US’ coalition against ISIS.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Britain is not helping India's fight against terror

The 9/11 attacks were a turning point in the fight against terror. Many countries joined hands with the George W Bush administration to fight this scourge. The general consensus, which holds true even now, was that terror recognises no national boundaries and nations should come together to fight this evil, whatever else their differences may be. Britain is an active member in the United States’ ‘War against Terror’ coalition — it didn’t think twice before invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Given this the October 13 Hindustan Times news report that London has denied New Delhi evidence on operatives of the terror outfit Babbar Khalsa International until India repealed the death penalty is baffling.

Kuldeep Singh Brar
The Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) is a terrorist organisation that is fighting for Sikh separatism. While it was active during the eighties and well into the nineties, it has since been on the decline. Of the many murders carried out by the group over the decades, the most notorious was the 1995 suicide attack on the Chandigarh secretariat in which then chief minister Beant Singh was assassinated. The BKI was back in the news in 2012, when four men associated with the group in London attempted to kill Lt Gen Kuldeep Singh Brar, who commanded Operation Blue Star in 1984.
India had, under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), requested Britain to provide information on the BKI’s fund-raising activities. Britain refused to share the details about the operatives. This move by London is illogical and defeats the efforts to fight terror. The war against terror is a concerted effort in which data and expertise must be shared for effective results. The irony here is that the BKI is a group proscribed by Britain since March 2001. The debate on the death penalty should not hinder this effort and help terror groups exploit these differences. Britain’s reluctance poses tough questions: Does this mean that Britain would not share information with a nation that is yet to abolish the death penalty? Would Britain refuse to share information with the US, in which 32 of the 50 states still have the death penalty? If ISIS or al Qaeda operatives were to work out of Britain against India, would London not cooperate with New Delhi? Britain, which has been a victim of terror itself, surely knows better than to be so obdurate on this issue.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Jayalalithaa in jail: Panneerselvam should now work for Tamil Nadu

For her emotionally overwrought followers, this is the worst possible news. On Tuesday the Karnataka High Court rejected AIADMK leader and former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa’s bail plea in connection to a `66.65 crore disproportionate assets case. In the past 10 days that Jayalalithaa has been in jail Tamil Nadu has witnessed the most sycophantic outpourings of love for her. The AIADMK cadre has held protests — from hunger strikes to ‘Mannu Soru’ (eating food from the ground) to human chains — have disrupted public life and even destroyed public property. The fact that the court has come to its conclusion after having examined all the evidence seems lost on Amma’s followers. Tamil Nadu is no stranger to over-the-top displays of love and admiration for its leaders. In 1987, when then CM MG Ramachandran died, around 30 people committed suicide. But the current protests are not going to produce any favourable result as the court is not going to take notice of the antics of the followers. The protesters who are demanding her release and saying that the case is politically motivated are doing a singular disservice to the judiciary, which has acted without fear or favour.
Jayalalithaa (left), Sasikala and O Panneerselvam (File Frontline photo)
Even if we were to pass off the people’s protests as ‘spontaneous’ reactions of affection for Amma, there is no excuse for the way the state government is handling the situation. Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, after taking office, has done precious little to bring any semblance of normalcy to the state. While he is in Chennai many of his Cabinet colleagues are in Bangalore. An elected government has a duty to discharge its duties, not be in mourning for a leader who has been found guilty of corruption.  The state machinery is being subtly used to provoke reactions — like the move by a group of educational institutions to remain closed on Tuesday to show solidarity with Amma. Reacting to a PIL, the Madras High Court ordered that all schools and colleges must remain open, a damning indictment of the administration’s failure. Posters threatening to hold Kannadigas hostage if Amma is not released show how the police’s soft approach to protests has encouraged these people. That these posters had the names of various AIADMK leaders will only egg these protestors on.
There are pressing concerns that the state administration has to address — like the looming power crisis. If Mr Panneerselvam and the AIADMK are not able to run the government without its leader, maybe they should approach the governor, because the state cannot come to a standstill just because its leaders are overcome by emotion.