What happened – Indian Election 2014?

If there is one word that best describes the results of the 2014 Indian Parliamentary Elections, it is SURPRISE. For some it was a very pleasant surprise – for others it was a nasty shock. But nobody including the paid analysts had really any clue how close they were to the truth when they were predicting a landslide victory to the BJP.

So first some congratulations are in order:

Congratulations to the BJP for running a brilliant campaign and being able to influence the mind of the voter. Narendra Modi was decisive, communicated incessantly, used the media with aplomb, took every advantage that came his way including the six week staggered voting mechanism, capitalized on a cadre of dedicated people who did him proud and stuck exclusively to a development agenda which resonated with the common man. The fact that the BJP was voted out of power after Gujarat 2002 was not ignored. This time around, the BJP stayed clear of the RSS inspired Hindutva agenda and leveraged the good governance in the States where they had the government to promise the same in the country. The hard work and complete dedication of the RSS/BJP cadre can only be admired and applauded. Modi didn’t exaggerate when he said that it was because of them that he won the election. That is a fact they can be proud of.

Congratulations also to the Congress for being so spectacularly blind to the writing on the wall, even though it was in the form of an electronic, neon lit bill board in pulsating psychedelic lights, predicting its demise. An epitaph must necessarily be brief.

Congratulations to the Muslims for being divided so fragmentally that for the first time in our post-independence history the famous ‘Muslim vote’ that everyone respected and feared was rendered completely ineffective. UP with all the major Madaaris and Aligarh Muslim University and some districts with over 40% Muslim voters  . If that doesn’t show that Muslims voted for the BJP then what else does it show?

How did this happen?

  1. Hubris: Congress was living in a world of make-believe living off a legacy that had really dried up at least a decade earlier but even the final wet mud at the bottom of the pool went dry now. Failure of dynasty politics – one hopes it has truly failed and will not merely be replaced by another dynasty – in a nation that is more used to kings and dynasties than to democracy is something to be pleased about in itself. Next step, hopefully, will be leadership based on ethical and moral principles and not on caste – but maybe I am stretching it.
  2. BJP: Ran a campaign completely devoid of the Hindutva agenda of its previous incarnation. It spoke of good governance, justice, economic empowerment and inclusiveness. So one must ask if this is what got them the votes – and not the RSS inspired Hindutva mandir/anti-Muslim agenda. After all the fact that the BJP won 73 out of 80 seats in UP shows that Muslims voted for them – which in itself was totally unexpected – until one considers the spectacular failure of Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, elephantine megalomania of Mayawati’s BSP and the sleepwalking of Congress. Then what was unexpected becomes logical.

We can only forget or ignore the power of culture and history at our own peril. We are a nation that has a 5000-year history of kings and just 65 years of democracy. In that 5000-year history, we never rebelled against a king. We worship strength and power. We see kindness and compassion as weakness. Greatness is defined in our culture as the ability to break the law with impunity. This ‘greatness’ extends to a ‘great man’s’ servants and followers and so to be associated with a ‘great man’ is seen as a personal advantage. A ‘great man’ in our culture is one who can protect those who do his bidding regardless of right or wrong. Modi projected himself as that ‘great man’ – the electorate proved that he was accepted in this role.

Today, we consider corruption merely as cost of doing business to be factored into our rates and costs and justified by the benefits that accrue. Corruption is now in our blood and has changed from being an aberration to an aspiration. There is no stigma attached to it at any level. It is merely seen as payment for service. It is only when we pay and don’t get the service that we complain – which is what happened in the Congress government. Equality, egalitarianism, social causes, ideology and even justice is seen by most Indians as interesting at best – but not something we are willing to invest in or will commit to live by. The demise of the Trade Unions and the Communist Party and the decimation of the BSP (Dalit Party) in UP are cases in point. We are a selfish people – we look for personal benefit above all else. Modi promised us personal benefit and we believed him. It remains to be seen what he is able to deliver – but the Sensex reflects this public optimism.

  1. Divisions: 2014 was a year characterized by one spectacular meteor flying across the political horizon –  clad in a funny cap and a muffler round his neck, broom in hand – Arvind Kejriwal – who like a meteor seems to have crashed in flames. However, while he was in flight, he emanated the light of hope – the hope of clean government, power to the common man, nemesis of the big business-brigands who populate our corridors of power and an end to our crippling corruption. He upset everyone’s calculations in Delhi elections; he trounced Congress and rendered Sheila Dixit homeless and then didn’t occupy the house to which he was entitled, thereby presenting Manmohan Singh with his own retirement home. Many voted for him or really for what he stood for. But not enough to save him or his own seat. Imagination not converted into a ballot box victory. Good case in point about the power of decisiveness and the failure of philosophy. We are very pragmatic people who like definite things. Arvind Kejriwal miscalculated and didn’t realize that philosophy doesn’t sell. Neither does being slapped in public – it may get you pity – but it doesn’t get you respect. Calling it ‘Gandhian’ is incorrect because Gandhiji was never slapped by any Indian and in any case he never had to win any election. We Indians want a powerful decisive leader – not one who can’t even protect himself from being slapped. Costly miscalculation for Kejriwal. Sad for all who supported him.

Using UP as a good example of what happened across the country – on one side was the committed BJP voter who would come out in 42°C temperatures to cast his vote for his party. On the other side was the Congress/Secular party voter who had to choose between BSP, Samajwadi, AAP, Congress and many smaller parties – and he did – all to the benefit of the BJP. So in a manner of speaking the BJP is beholden to all those who voted for Congress, BSP, Samajwadi, AAP and others for its spectacular victory.

It shows also that the single minded interest of the voter is an economic agenda in pursuit of which he is able to forgive and forget everything else. No matter how unsavory and unidealistic this sounds, this appears to be the reality of the Indian voter across all divides. Another contributing factor is the quality of the Muslim leader – Mukhtar Ansari is a case in point – who is so completely pathetic and uninspiring that it is little wonder that they chose Modi over him. So would you and I. The Ulama, engrossed as they have been in their internal conflicts for the past several years, completely unconnected with their constituents, were rendered completely ineffective, including those who entered politics – after all if you join the party of (Mukhtar Ansari), a convicted criminal, what else do you expect than to be ignored – and good riddance.  Walking the talk is essential. If you talk unity and walk dispute it costs. Wonder if our Ulama will learn the lesson.

Now that this has happened and we all seem to be in a state of shock – the big question is what must we Muslims do? In my view, we need to do the following which will be difficult and bitter but then the alternative is even more bitter to contemplate. I hope we are able to see the reality of what we face and have the guts to do what we need to do if we really want to ensure a secure future for generations yet unborn. Do we have it in us to act? History will bear witness.

Winners are not those who don’t fall. Winners are those who get up the quickest. Not just get up – because everyone eventually gets up – but get up fast.

The first and foremost thing to do is to remind ourselves and others that we Muslims are citizens of India – with one cardinal difference – our fathers chose to live here when they had the option to go to Pakistan. Others who live here had no option. We did and we chose to live in India. India is our country. We don’t need anyone’s permission to live here and neither do we need to prove our loyalty to anyone. India is our country – we live in it and for it and we will die in it and for it. Patriotism is loyalty to our nation, not loyalty to any political party. We are patriotic and nobody has the right to question our patriotism and we don’t have to defend it or to answer anyone who is ignorant enough to question it. This is our land, the Constitution of which guarantees us the same rights as every other citizen, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. This is our land in which we are equal to every other citizen of every other caste, creed or religion. We stand for India and against anyone who is an enemy of our country. This is my land – our land – the land of our forefathers and the land of our generations unborn, yet to come. It is from this mindset that we must proceed.

We have lived in this land from times immemorial. Muslims have been in India for the past 1389 years, beginning from 625 AD (4 Hijri) when the first Arabs came to Kerala and locals accepted Islam. What ancient Muslim rulers did during their rule – both the good and bad – is not our responsibility; we weren’t alive then. Neither is what happens or doesn’t happen in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or any other so-called Muslim country.

What is relevant is our own history where we the Muslim people were at the forefront of the Independence movement where our leaders fought alongside their compatriots and were imprisoned and killed by the British Colonial power.

In modern India, our Madrassa system educates more than 2 million children free of cost, which costs the community Rs.12 billion per annum. There is no other community in India who spends this kind of money on educating its people, which is really the responsibility of the Government of India as we are Indian citizens.

We are Indians and India is our concern. This is our reality and it does not change whoever comes to power.

For anyone who is interested in the welfare of this nation I must say that Indian Muslims are 20% of the population – it can be a force to reckon with in respect to buying power, economic drive and stability, if it is harnessed by investment in its development, or a drag threatening to drown the nation if it is discriminated against, oppressed and driven to the wall. I don’t see anyone with any intelligence wanting to make enemies of 200 million of its own citizens. That would be suicidal.

There are two possible scenarios that the BJP victory predicts:

  1.  In that case this portends good for the Muslims who can look forward to development programs and real upliftment from poverty and deprivation. For the nation it can only mean great benefit because economically empowering 200 million people is to empower the whole nation. We need to give the BJP the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word and wait to see if they live up to it. Logically they should because they are certainly intelligent people. The future will tell.
  2. The BJP brings out its earlier RSS inspired agenda of oppressing Muslims and using them as a scapegoat and allows our brigand-businesses to have the field and make hay and more while the saffron sun shines. I don’t think I need to describe that scenario. Its results can only be imagined. The reality will be worse. In that case what will be, will be. Living in terror expecting the worst makes no sense. Living with hope, does.

Irrespective of what future unfolds, it is up to us to decide what we must do.

Here’s what I believe we must do.

Be resilient. Get up from the floor. Accept reality and take stock. The thing that distinguishes nations that endure is not bravery or strength but resilience. The ability to simply stay in the race, no matter how many or how bad the knocks.

There are three steps to resilience:

  1. Face the brutal facts but don’t lose hope
  2. Make sense of what is happening
  3. Take hard decisions to ensure the future

Face the Brutal Facts

What are the brutal facts with respect to the political history of Muslims in post-independence India?

In one word – deteriorating quality of leadership. We have been on a slide and the end is not in sight yet. No vision, strategy, unity or discipline. Just bravado, loud mouthed speeches. Our leaders are true to type with the kind of mercenary, corrupt leadership that we have been plagued with in India. Our leaders are as corrupt and mercenary as anyone else with absolutely nothing to distinguish them as Muslims. Islam is not a differentiator except as a convenient tool for them to whip up emotions to serve their own short sighted political agendas. Our leaders are politicians in the worst sense of the term and not the statesmen that we need.

Congress, in one form or another, ruled this country since independence except for one term when the BJP (NDA) occupied the throne in Delhi. In that long period of over 5 decades, every atrocity that was done to Muslims, from the demolishing of the Babari Masjid, to the so-called Bombay pogrom, Bhagalpur pogrom, Makkah Masjid blasts, the latest pogrom in Muzzafernagar and a million others, as well as the gross neglect of and discrimination against Muslims, all happened under Congress rule at the Center. The BJP not to be left behind allowed the Gujarat pogrom to take place during their watch. Then came 10 years of Congress rule during which the plight of the living was a reflection of the savagery that marked the death of their families. Nobody was brought to justice. The Congress did nothing to right the wrongs of the BJP, much less its own.

One common feature of all these tragedies is that the Administration aids and abets the crime and no criminal is ever brought to book when the victim is a Muslim. There is no difference between the Congress and BJP in this respect, except that the Congress was in power for much longer.

As a community, we’re a people who spend a thousand times more on ostentatious weddings than on poverty eradication of our own people. We’re steeped in Shirk and openly disobey and challenge the orders of Allah. We forget and ignore that the decisions of Allah are based on our actions. We forget that results need investment. We forget that good luck comes to those who are prepared – it is the name for what happens when aspiration meets preparation. We are selfish and concerned only about ourselves – ask when was the last time you saw Muslims agitating because a Dalit was murdered? Ask what we did when Christian priests and nuns were murdered and churches burnt in Orissa. We moan only about our own and watch silently when it happens to others.

We follow leaders who have never even seen a global platform and wouldn’t recognize it if it punched them in the eye and have no clue what to do if they’re given access. Yet we, the followers, don’t have the intelligence to see this or to recognize how suicidal it is to follow such leaders who at best are an embarrassment and a clear symptom of the fatal malaise that we are plagued with – congenital blindness. If one makes a mistake once, it is an opportunity to learn. If he makes the same mistake twice, it’s a sign of stupidity. We have made this mistake multiple times.

Our current situation, documented in the Sachar Committee Report, is the result of a complete failure of our leadership at every level. That we have done nothing significant to change that situation, 8 years since the report was published (30 November 2006) apart from carping, is a mark of the fact that we are lethargic, looking for saviors and ripe for the taking as victims of anyone who wants to use us. We have been used and discarded many times, yet we learn nothing. We’re in this mess because of our leaders not despite them. Our leadership is self-serving, corrupt, blind and deaf, concerned more about interpersonal conflicts than about the welfare of the community. Our leaders – sadly religious leaders included – are at each other’s throats publicly, plunging the common man into confusion about who to follow.

We need leaders with vision and strategy and followers who’re willing to put aside differences and unite and work with discipline to achieve the goal of uplifting the community. We’re people who can’t see the need to invest in developing leaders yet we complain that we don’t have good leaders. Leaders don’t grow on trees even in 10 Janpath. Until we learn to put our money, time and energy where it counts, we will continue to suffer. So until we get the leaders we need it’s better to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm. Following such people will only lead to more grief.

Test:            Name one Muslim leader who you’d love to apprentice your son to, so that he may become like him.

“Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave
and eats a bread it does not harvest.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.
Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream,
yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,
and farewells him with hooting,
only to welcome another with trumpeting again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years
and whose strongmen are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.”

Khalil GibranThe Garden of The Prophet

 Yet we must never lose hope. Not only because it is Allahﷻ who we worship and on Whom we rely, but also because those who lose hope perish. For all our faults we have been around for 13 centuries while the BJP government will be around for 5 years. So we must work with hope and with great dedication to improve our situation. Waiting for Avatars to save us is not from our theology. We are a nation which believes in the power of self-help. Let us show it to the world. The time is now.

Make sense of what is happening:       

The world has changed. Our leadership has failed spectacularly. Solutions to our problems are not with those who are the cause of those problems. What we must do is  . Then we must plan investment for the scenarios we choose to focus on. We live in a connected world and we must learn to use those connections. Simply updating FB statuses doesn’t help. We must learn to harness the power of technology to tell the world our story. We need to create Media Watch groups who will monitor what is reported about Muslims and Muslim issues and can counter propaganda effectively. We need to train people in this. We must realize that we need to create a whole new generation to do all this. Our traditional leaders are a part of the problem. Expecting them to give us solutions is unrealistic. If they had solutions we wouldn’t be in this mess. I know I am going to be called ‘disrespectful,’ but someone must tell the emperor that he is naked.

Take Hard Decisions:       

Money talks. More money talks more. This election proved the power of money. So we must decide to invest in ourselves – in long term projects to develop global Muslim leaders. We need to put our money where our mouth is. It is a tragedy that in a population of 200 million there is not a single Muslim leader who can represent the case of Indian Muslims at the United Nations, for example. I am not saying that we need to do it today. Just that if we needed to, we have nobody who can do it. Unpleasant as it is, we must recognize this and do something to change this situation. Leaders are not born overnight. Leadership development takes time and resources invested consistently with dedication.

We must also consciously stand up against divisive leaders. We have spawned too many of those. We need to reject them and support those who speak the language of inclusion. That we have leaders who thought that polarizing the vote was a viable strategy  . We need to keep hearts together and take people along if we want to build unity. And unity is what we need above all else. Unity can’t be defined as, ‘Let us unite – everyone please agree with me.’ Unity must be built by accepting diversity of views and practices. By respecting difference and the right of the other to differ. We need to do this across religions but let us begin with our own people. Sadly, we are most divided amongst ourselves.

We must invest in a  and that our Constitutional Rights are not frittered away. The Legal Cell must also pursue justice in all cases where Muslims have been harmed. We support the rule of law but that has to be claimed and pursued for it doesn’t always happen automatically as we have learnt all too often to our cost. We must support the education of our youth in the areas of journalism, law and politics to create a cadre of capable workers. We must claim our rights and realize that you never get what you deserve. You get what you can negotiate.

Finally, we must decide to work for the long haul. Our current situation of confusion and weakness didn’t happen overnight. Its solution will also take time to show results. We must work for the benefit of the community and the nation – not for the seductive glory of flash bulbs. Those who can’t work quietly and steadily and who seek publicity must be rejected. They demonstrate childish immaturity that we can ill afford. We need to work with faith and perseverance. For in the end the race goes to the one who stayed in it long enough.

“Begging” is used in the old, antiquated sense to mean “lacking”. Did you ever hear the expression that something “beggars the imagination”? Same sense, same root. It means you lack enough imagination to even conceive of whatever preposterous thing you have been confronted with.

The Problem with the C – Word

One of the things that I have been very fond of, is trekking, especially climbing mountains. I have done a good bit of that in the Western Ghats in Southern India, climbing on one occasion through thick forest straight up the side of the mountain, 4500 feet. I went up to Singampatti from Kanyakumari. 4500 feet may not sound like much in itself, but put it on an almost vertical hillside, no clear pathway, the opportunity to descend without brakes at any time, thorn-bush, razor grass, hot, humid weather, nettles, cicadas buzzing in the heat…….all ad infinitum……and you have an entirely different perspective.
However one thing that I always looked forward to was to cross the half way, no return mark. At that point, you have not achieved the goal, you are exhausted, sweaty, irritated with yourself for having started this stupid enterprise and no way to go back, because it is even more difficult to descend a steep path than it is to ascend it. Yet when you sit for a while and take a drink of the by now tepid water that you are carrying, your second wind kicks in. Then you start up the hillside once again, looking forward to scaling the last height in due course. And then comes the moment … not too soon…but after some more hours of effort, but by now the altitude has cooled the heat, the forest is getting less thick and anticipation of success gives you the energy that you need.
Finally you reach the top. And what do you see? You see the land spread out before you as far as the eye can see. You see the glint of the ocean on the horizon. You see blue lakes and irrigation tanks, punctuating the patchwork quilt of innumerable shades of green, each a neat square that grows rice. You see the serpent eagle and his mate floating effortlessly on motionless out-spread wings riding the thermals. You can’t see the minute adjustment of their pinion feathers which guide their direction. And on one occasion, as I stood watching all this, I looked up at the hillside behind me and I saw a leopard sitting on his haunches and watching me. We looked at each other for a while and then he decided I looked decidedly unappetizing and turned up his nose and walked away. I agreed with him and walked the 14 kilometers to habitation in the tea gardens which straddle this tail end of the Western Ghat mountain range with Madurai on one side and KanyaKumari on the other. 
Why am I telling you this story?
I am telling you this story because as we work towards a great goal you will begin to become restless, irritated and impatient and inclined to take shortcuts and cut corners – all for the excellent reason that you want to see the project up and started as soon as possible. But in this urgency, there will be the tendency to accept compromises. I am writing this to warn you of the biggest danger to success. The C word. Compromise. For to compromise is to die a death without honor.
Those who have the courage to work for a great goal understand that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are terms that define your own standpoint – how you see yourself – they point to who you are – not to the goal at all. Soaring at 30,000 feet is possible for an eagle or for a man with a flying machine. It is not possible or impossible in itself. All it needs is for you to ask, ‘How can I do it?’ Not, ‘Can it be done?’
Differentiation creates brand. Brand creates identity. Identity creates influence. Influence creates followers and loyalty and the opportunity to change society. Without differentiation you are a grain of rice in a sack.
Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We strive for excellence not because someone is watching or because we are playing to the gallery but because excellence is about us – how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we choose to define ourselves. We define ourselves and the world accepts that definition and treats us accordingly. So think before you define yourself.
Excellence requires sustained heroic effort – often in the face of great discouragement. So only those excel, who revel in the effort. The adrenalin drives them. Paradoxically they are goal focused but take pleasure from the difficulty of reaching that goal. For them the journey is the destination; because the excitement is only in the chase and ends with the catch. Mount Everest is a worthy goal to strive for because its dimensions are measured in height. The same distance on level ground wouldn’t be worth talking about. It is the difficulty which adds value to the goal.
If you think success is difficult, try failure. To accept mediocrity is to accept failure at the start. Mediocrity ensures that your failure is permanent. That drug is called ‘compromise.’ I know that there are more mediocre people in the world than those who achieve excellence. But ask yourself who you would rather be – who would you like to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model? That is why Tipu Sultan said, ‘One day in the life of a tiger is worth more than a hundred years in the life of a jackal.’ Ask yourself which life you would like to live – for in the end, both die.
Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight cancer but accepts it because it doesn’t recognize the threat. It accepts cancer cells until they kill it. Only those who hate mediocrity can excel. Not dislike, not are irritated by it, not anything mild – but those who pathologically hate mediocrity. Those who can’t stomach it at any cost. Those who are repelled by it, find it disgusting, abhorrent and hateful and do anything to get out of it. Compromise, like cancer, destroys from within. But unlike cancer it is infectious.
Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable. So people settle for less than what they can be. They get distracted by others and their mediocre efforts – they make excuses as if they can change reality – they imagine that if they can find others who will agree with them, their mediocrity will be acceptable. It will be – to other mediocre people. But to those focused on excellence, who look not at others but at their own potential and beyond it, mediocrity is despicable, no matter what guise it comes in. And to tell you the truth, the mediocre ones also recognize this in the dead of the night, when they are alone with themselves, that their efforts don’t even begin to approach the boundaries of what could have been if only they had not compromised. Failure is not the enemy of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Nobody willingly fails or remains in failure. But mediocrity is anesthetized failure. It is fatal because the victim does nothing to counter it because he can’t feel the pain.
I remind myself about a basic principle that I have always followed in my own life – It is better to fail trying to achieve an extraordinary goal, than to settle for a compromise.  Why Extraordinary? Because good enough, never is.
The important thing for us to remember is never to compromise. No matter how frustrating it seems. As I always say, when weighing things in a balance, it is only the last few grains which tip the balance. Until then you don’t see any difference. And that is why in my view there are two fundamental laws:
  1. That the balance will not tip until the last few grains fall it.
  2. That the last few grains will always tip the balance.
Both laws are equally true.

Remember that if we compromise for anything less than what we dreamed of, then in the evening of our days we too will be forced to look back on our lives and say, “If only we had not sold our dream so cheaply!!”

Tera Kya Hoga Kaliya?

Tera Kya Hoga Kaliya?

That line from Sholay is what comes to mind listening to Rajnath Singh’s ‘apology’. The antics of politicians never fail to amuse but BJP is giving full value for money. First come the senile prattlings – Hindus must have at least 5 children – We will give shelter to Hindu Bangladeshis but Muslims are infiltrators and must be deported – and other gems. Then comes along Rajnath Singh apparently in Damage Control Mode saying that he (BJP or him personally?) is prepared to bow his head to Muslims IF (and only IF) they have done anything wrong. That is the most creative apology that I have heard in a long time. So I thought I would share some thoughts on this.

1.      Firstly we must differentiate between a mistake and a crime. What happened in Gujarat was a premeditated crime. Not a mistake. An apology, even a genuine one, has no standing in our Criminal Justice System for such a crime. Crimes must be punished. It is as simple as that.

2.     Secondly what Rajnath Singh proposed is not an apology at all because in any apology the first requirement is admission of guilt. He is reported to have said, ‘IF WE DID ANYTHING WRONG…..’ That is not an admission of guilt at all. Did they do wrong or didn’t they do?

3.      Thirdly what happened in Gujarat is a fact – that 2000+ Indian citizens were murdered. It is now for the State to investigate the crime and bring the perpetrators to book according to the IPC/CRPC. That is why we have a Police Service and a Criminal Code. Where is the question of any apology taking the place of the Criminal Code?

4.      The same is true in the case of the Sikh pogrom in Delhi and elsewhere after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. In that case also the criminals are walking free while those who were bereaved, lives destroyed and homes desolated – are still crying for justice. Only that. Justice as citizens of India – not Sikhs. Just citizens of India.

5.      Fourthly we need to stop talking about Muslims and Sikhs and Christians as if they are anything special. We are a secular democratic republic according to our Constitution which is the Supreme Authority of this land. According to that Constitution a citizen of this country is entitled to the same rights and is liable to fulfill the same duties as any other citizen, IRRESPECTIVE of his/her religion or ideological beliefs. So let us talk about crime and punishment and not about the religion of the victim or criminal. That makes no difference to the seriousness of the crime.

6.      Fifthly we have every faith in the Legal System of this country and only demand that it be used properly and fairly. Let the police investigate properly what happened and bring the criminals to book and let the courts pass sentence and let it be carried out. That is what the Legal System is supposed to do. Any Government or political party which opposes that is opposing the Constitution of India.

7.      Sixthly we have no faith in Rajnath Singh or his party and this suspicion was amply supported by his non-statement and its prompt refutation by the BJP spokesperson. When their promises can’t even last 24 hours, what hope that they will be honored post-election? Amnesia seems to be a common problem of the BJP.

Is it such a difficult thing for justice to be done? Is it such a crime to ask for justice?

That is all we – the citizens of India – ask. DO JUSTICE

Jai Hind
If I were President of Egypt

If I were President of Egypt


This is a piece I wrote in April 2013

Having been to Egypt recently and watching recent developments I thought to myself, ‘What would I do if I were the President of Egypt?’ Sadly as I write this, there has been a coup in Egypt and the democratically elected government has been removed by the military. While the opposition is chortling about it they may like to recall the saying, ‘Throwing the baby out with the bath water.’ A democracy by definition is a government where civilian authority is supreme, not military. Soldiers who call the shots are like wolves shepherding sheep and the results are predictable. What the opposition needs to realise is that a faulty democracy is a million times preferable to a perfect military dictatorship and by sabotaging and not supporting a democratically elected government, no matter their weaknesses, they have opened the door to their own destruction and have written slavery for themselves. What they don’t realise is that by their actions all that they have done is to strengthen and legitimize anti-democracy forces. That dog always bites.

Very similar to our (Muslim) lack of foresight when the Ottoman Empire was dismembered and the Khilafa was abolished by the British-French combine. What those who gladly accepted little kingdoms for themselves failed (or refused) to recognize was that they were party to the death of the Institution of Khilafa, the Khilafatul Muslimeen. Even if one of them had declared himself Ameer-ul-Mu’mineen instead of King; King Abdul Aziz ibn Al Saud was clearly the best candidate for this as he was the ruler of Hijaz with the Haramain Shareefain in it; the Institution of Khilafa which had come down through the centuries would still have been alive. Great efforts were made in India led by Mohnammed Ali Jauhar, Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi and others and supported by Mahatma Gandhi but to no avail. Self-interest dominated thinking and so Arab leaders accepted bits and pieces of the Ottoman Empire as their fiefdoms and the rest is history. Same logic to what the Opposition is doing in Egypt which shows that people who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The sheep who asks the wolf to help him against another sheep is bound to perish. Wolves eat sheep. Sheep can only forget or ignore that at their peril.

So what would I do if I were the president? Here are some thoughts.

The first thing that I would remind myself is that in politics facts mean nothing. Statistics less than nothing. Spectacle, impression, symbolism and communication mean everything. Symbolism, visibility and public eye are the platform on which politics runs.  In politics being truthful is less important than being believable. That is the basis of all mythology. Politics is at the root of mythology and most mythology arises from political realities.  Morsi’s dilemma proves that the economy supersedes ideology. Food before ideas. Hungry people are angry people, so feed them first. People who have nothing to lose are the most brave and reckless, so give them something to lose. Get people involved in development and they will see the benefit of government. Otherwise they will blame the same government no matter how unfair it seems. They may realise it is unfair but who else can they blame?

Nobody can cure Egypt’s economic problems in one year – except by magic. But I don’t think Egyptian magicians have it in them anymore. Maybe that is why the Pharaoh had so many of them in his time. The fact remains however that economic development must be seen to be happening. So Morsi needs (needed?) to concentrate on projects that will employ people. Large numbers of them. Infrastructure is a key area for this and Allah knows, Egypt needs it like a fish needs water. I was there in April and saw lots of men sitting in the tea shops. Very bad sign for the economy as well as for the government. They need to get those men off the streets. So employ them. There are any number of infrastructure companies in the world who will come with the money if you have the right scheme. That is what the government should do – create the schemes and invite investors.

Second major avenue of employment and high visibility is garbage collection – there are mountains waiting to be collected in the streets of Cairo. There are companies who collect garbage, recycle it, make compost and manure and fuel briquettes and generate electricity. All these are commercial activities and will employ people and clean the cities at the same time. High visibility and everyone will be positively affected.

Third is housing – not the fancy villas of Rehab but housing for the poor. Again a commercially viable alternative especially when combined with easy credit. Any number of ME countries will gladly fund something like that. Once again this will generate employment locally and solve a major problem.

Fourth is to encourage agriculture by handing out parcels of land to those who will farm them. Make a scheme where they will become the owners of the land if they can show that they can successfully farm it. Canada is a major success story in this respect. They did it by inviting Sikh farmers from Punjab. Egypt can do it with their own people. Seed and fertilizer companies will gladly partner with the government for this and so will various lending agencies.

Fifth is to concentrate on elementary and secondary schools – invite local companies to fund them and get philanthropic organizations like Qatar Foundation to help. In India, Bharati-Airtel has schools which have cumulatively more than 200,000 children. I am sure Egypt needs more than that but that alone is enough to create a buzz where it counts. Make funding of schools and housing a mandatory requirement for local and foreign companies operating in Egypt and give them tax breaks to do this. Get women involved in education and all developmental activities. They are more than 50% of the population with huge influence. No government can survive, much less sustain if it doesn’t engage its female population. So get women involved wherever they have the competence to contribute. In today’s world don’t underestimate the power of the woman in public. She will be there whether you like it or not. Your only choice is to decide if you want her with you or against you. So talk to them, involve them and leverage their presence for the good.

Market the handicrafts of Egypt. They make some really great stuff there but nobody knows about it. Having them sitting in Khan Al Khalili is not enough. They need to do exhibitions in the major cities of the West and take orders. Once again there are entrepreneurs who will do all this, provided the government provides a user friendly climate. The bureaucracy needs to go. So does the corruption.

Finally leverage tourism. Egypt has some unique monuments which like the Taj Mahal in India attract loads of foreign tourists. However Egyptian monuments are badly maintained (if at all), very difficult to get to because of extremely bad roads and riddled with touts and conmen. I was conned into sitting in a horse carriage to visit the pyramids and then the man demanded 500 Egyptian Pounds for the trip of a few hundred meters. I managed to escape from his clutches only by threatening violence. Then he followed me all the way as I walked bringing down his price until he begged me for 10 Egyptian Pounds – ‘only because you are my brother’. So clean up the act. Maintain the places, improve access and get rid of those who fleece tourists and give Egypt a bad name.

Then publicly invite the opposition to join the government and when they refuse, publicize that also. Let everyone know what you are doing, loudly and frequently. That way they can’t talk about non-inclusion. Keep the ideological agenda separate from the economic agenda. Sell the ideological agenda by communicating with people and giving them good information and allaying their fears. If not, the real and imaginary fears about the ideology will sabotage everything else. Ideology is a matter of belief; a matter of the heart. Hearts take time to change. If you link your success to that change, you will invariably fail. People must see the benefit of the ideology in action before they will believe that it is worth supporting and adopting. Talking about the ideology is pointless. Enforcing it is suicide.

Do all this very publicly so that people know what is going on. Remember that everyone has a stake in development and will support it. So involve them. Involvement means to delegate power, listen to their story, accept discord and learn to use it to build relationships. Involvement also means to accept that some things will need to be done in ways that are not necessarily what you would choose to do, but that is the real litmus test of delegation and empowerment; will you let them do it their way?

I hope lessons are learnt and democracy gets a genuine chance. Egypt is too important a country to be written off and forgotten. Or to allow once again to go back into dictatorship.

Easy to kill

30thJanuary, 1948 – Nathuram Godse fired a bullet which ended a life that impacted millions of others and continues to do so 66 years later. Gandhiji was perhaps the only Father of the Nation to be killed by his own people. We all share the shame.
Easy to kill. Impossible to forget.
So what do we remember?
1.    The power of living your message which comes out of a passionate belief that you are on the right path that leads to eventual success no matter how foggy it may look.
2.    The power of perseverance in the face of apparently insurmountable odds – arising from the knowledge that the winner of the race is only decided at the end.
3.    The power of demonstrating your commitment by walking the talk because people listen with their eyes and don’t care what you say until they see what you do.
4.    The power of tackling strategic issues which may seem insignificant to begin with but drive the change you seek to create.
5.    The power of demonstrating that your method works because seeing is believing.
6.    The power of breaking the loop of violence and introducing Ahimsa to the world.
7.    The power of taking diverse people along with you and keeping them focused on the common goal despite their individual differences.
8.    The power of holding oneself accountable for results and not blaming others for failure.
9.    The power of remaining humble despite praise and adulation of millions.
10. The danger of indecisive action when someone tries to go off in a different direction because of his own vested interests.
11. The danger of not creating robust successors to carry on the message.
12. The danger of relinquishing leadership too early before the dust had settled.

The danger of being human.
The question for us is not why Gandhiji died but what he died for. The question for us is what we intend to do today if indeed we share his dream of a nation that runs on the four wheels of truth, justice, compassion and service.
Gandhian principles make even more sense today than they did in 1948. But all principles are only as good as their practice. Gandhiji demonstrated the courage to practice what he preached and history is witness to the results. He proved his point beyond doubt.
Gandhian political strategy and method have been analyzed and commented upon but what is often forgotten is the ethical and moral belief that underpinned it. Gandhiji’s success was built on love for his fellow human beings – not hatred. Hatred killed him – but failed to extinguish his memory or the power of what he demonstrated.
Whether the death of Gandhiji is to be mourned or not will be decided by what we decide to do with his dream – our dream – the dream of a united India. Will we support hatred or love? Will we support compassion for the weak or their oppression? Will we support truth and justice or lies and corruption packaged as patriotism? This is our time. And history will hold us accountable for it.

We salute a man who was not afraid to be a man. Yes he died. And no, he will never be forgotten.

(I don’t own the picture. I don’t know who owns it. I thank them for making it.)

Same Chairs, Different Bottoms

An over 12 year old cartoon that featured in the national media to mark 50 years of India’s independence: the situation is as grim

Once upon a time there was a beautiful land in which clear rivers flowed through lush forests. Birds flocked to the trees which were heavy with fruit until one was almost deafened by the cacophony of their cries. And if one dared to walk under the trees, then one needed an umbrella which quickly changed color and became white with the spirited discharge of processed fruit ensuing forth from enthusiastic birds.  Of animals there were plenty in this land but only the non-biting kind. All those that bit had been muzzled and lived on a diet of liquid protein shakes and Red Bull. So it appeared as if all was right with the world and the sun was shining and rain was falling and there was actually a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Never mind that nobody had actually got to it yet. Good thing that, or there would not be a pot at the end of the thing now, would there?

However the Wise Ones tell us never to be deceived by what we see for there can be much under the surface that is not visible to the naked eye. And that is how things were in this land as well. There was much pain and suffering under the surface. The reason for this was very simple. The land was enslaved. People craved to be independent and free but they were enslaved.
There were two kinds of people in this land, the Fatty Bottoms and the Bony Backsides. Fatty Bottoms, hereinafter to be referred as FBs were the rulers. Bony Backsides were the workers who lived only to serve the FBs. In due form we shall refer to them henceforth as BBs. Fatty Bottoms sat on special chairs which were specially shaped to fit their rather large sit-upons. FBs never left their chairs and when they had to go to a party or indeed anywhere they forced the BBs to carry them there, chair and all. This added to the suffering of the BBs because not only were FBs heavy to carry, the movement disturbed the fluid balance in their bellies and they expressed their feelings in an aromatic manner. The aroma unfortunately had no competition except perhaps from Satilla the Skunk and was not appreciated by the BBs who had to carry the FBs to their parties.
Not unnaturally it was the greatest desire of the BBs to become free of the oppressive Fatty Bottom rule. For this they schemed and made many plans but never managed to succeed, because the FBs had a law called Secret Code 420. This law had specially and very cleverly been made to ensure that the FBs always remained in power and the BBs could never become free.
It was a very interesting law because it was only one line.
Secret Code 420:
Whether any action is a crime or not depends on who does it, not on what is done.
So if a BB protested against the oppression, for example, he was called a rebel and jailed. If he took any direct action which the FBs were frightened of, it was labeled ‘terrorism’ and he was hanged after first being tortured. If something happened and the FB police couldn’t find out who did it, they simply grabbed the first BB they could lay their hands on and then beat him into a state where he would willingly admit to anything including what the birds did. Then once he had put it all in writing, he would conveniently encounter a stray bullet while attempting to commit mass murder of FBs and would be out of the race. This saved a lot of time and energy of the entire legal system which was much appreciated by all of FB-dom. What the BBs felt about the sudden abridgement of their friend’s lifespan was neither here nor there, because BB’s feelings and opinions were of no consequence anyway.
As they lived in this land, the BBs always wondered what it was that gave the FBs so much power. The Wise Ones told them that the secret lay in the shape of their chairs. The chairs of the FBs were carefully shaped with two very large cup-like depressions to fit the two cheeks of the sit-upon with a little ridge in the center to ensure that there was minimal lateral slide. The BBs believed that it was these chairs and their shape that gave the FBs their power to rule. Occasionally when an FB who had been carried around for some time desired to commune with nature, some of his BB chair carriers would try out the FB’s chair for size. Naturally this was a capital offence and any BB caught sitting in an FB chair would have his head separated from his body, but forbidden fruit is sweet and so BBs took the risk to sit in the FB chair anyway. But the experience was disappointing. The chair was intensely uncomfortable for a Bony Backside’s sit-upon. It poked them from all sides and they could neither fit into one depression or the other. The central ridge was the worst as it played havoc with all the delicate parts of the BB. How such a devilish contraption was so comfortable for an FB, the BB could never understand. Meanwhile here comes the FB master and time to go on the road once again.
One day it came to pass that there arose among the BBs one who was not afraid of the FBs. He carried a stick, wore eye glasses and drank goat’s milk. He was called the Great One. The Great One did great things which all the BBs marveled at and which were a source of unending aggravation for the FB establishment. For example, one day he walked to the sea and made salt to prove that those who wanted salt in their food could very well make it themselves and had no need to go to Wal-Mart to get it, thank you very much. He spun thread on a spinning wheel and made cloth and then wore it wrapped around his waist. He never got around to making any more cloth as it took too long and he had much to do and so never wore a shirt. Great One had several companions among whom was one who always said that he had many miles to go before he slept. His name was Ruby Red. It is not known who he was going to meet at the end of that long road, but it was a good line to say and so he always said it: ‘Many miles to go before I sleep’. It is said that the time makes the man. And so it happened in this case.
The BBs with their leader, Great One- the guy with the stick, followed by the guy going for a walk – Ruby Red, managed to raise enough of a revolution to make life difficult for the FBs. Their war cry was, ‘FBs go home and take your chairs with you.’ BBs were convinced that until the FB chairs were destroyed and removed from the land they would never be free.
‘How can you have a one-line law?’ someone asked.
‘How can an action be judged by who does it?’ demanded another.
‘Right is right and wrong is wrong and never the twain shall meet,’ said the third.
‘It is a conspiracy to keep us enslaved forever,’ said a fourth.
Such conversations have the power of a typhoon because they open the mind and stir the heart. Gradually the noise built up until it could be heard above the cacophony of the aforementioned birds and then it grew some more and drowned out the birds altogether. ‘FBs GO HOME’ shouted the BBs. FBs GO HOME.!!
Now wait a minute, you tell me. Did they not used to also say, ‘Take your chairs with you?
Hmm!! Clever you!! You are observant. Yes they used to. But they shortened it. Why? Try shouting the whole mouthful as a slogan and you will see why. So the last part about the chairs was taken to be understood. After all once the FBs were gone, the horrible chairs would be demolished and burnt up because they were so uncomfortable for the BBs to sit in anyway and the law would be changed and everyone would live happily ever after. QED.
So it came to pass, that in the middle of one night, the FBs left and the BBs were free. There was much rejoicing and dancing in the streets. Goat’s milk flowed like water and people spun spinning wheels like mad. Great One was nowhere to be found as he had apparently gone off now that he had some time, to see where it was that Ruby Red was headed towards. Ruby Red on the other hand took a right about turn and returned just in time to bid the last FB a fond farewell and then since there was nothing more to do, he sat down on the FB’s chair to rest.
The next day Ruby Red gathered some of his friends together and called the meeting to order and spoke thus. “My friends,” he said. “We have been given freedom at midnight. There is nowhere to sit except these chairs and no law except the Secret Code 420. I suggest that we all rest for a while and think about this before we throw out this law. It is true that we did not like it when we were at  the receiving end but notice that today we are not. The law served the FBs very well for 200 years. We have a lot of time to change the law so let us not be in a hurry to change it straight away. Meanwhile let us get used to sitting in these horrible chairs, which believe it or not, since I have been sitting in mine for a while now, is not as uncomfortable as it used to be.” All his friends agreed with this plan to put things on hold for a while and get used to the chairs and let the old law continue. Someone even asked where Great One had gotten too, but others were not too interested and so the matter was dropped.
Time passed and those who were watching from the sidelines noticed something strange. The bottoms of Ruby Red and his cronies started to change shape. They became fat and round and took the shape of the depressions in the chairs. Ruby Red and his cronies became very comfortable in their FB chairs; though they were no longer called that. They had a new name; Singhasan.
So much so that they became very resentful if they were asked to move and go anywhere. “Why can’t we get someone to carry us?” they demanded. “Why not indeed?” said Ruby Red. “Let it be done!” he thundered and many compliant BBs ran to do his bidding. Up rose his Singhasan on the shoulders of those who had been accustomed to carry it for the FB who sat in it before Ruby Red. And off he went, followed by his whole train of friends, each on his own Singhasan carried on the shoulders of its own bearers.
Some BBs resented this turn of events and shouted at Ruby Red and his friends as they went by, “We did not elect you so that you could behave like the FBs.” Another yelled, “What is the difference between you and the FBs?” As this started to grow, Ruby Red and his cronies became worried. They knew the power of the word, for they had themselves used it to great advantage. So they issued orders that anyone shouting against Ruby Red or his cronies was being anti-national and should be arrested. After all what was the difference between Ruby Red and the nation? Had he and his friends not sacrificed so many other BBs in order to get independence from the FBs? So naturally now, loyalty to the Ruby Red Gang was loyalty to the Nation. And opposing the Ruby Red Gang was treason. So the hunt started to ferret out the traitors. If the actual person could not be found anyone else could take his place. After all it was now a free country.
“But shouting against the rulers was what you used to do, isn’t it?” his wife asked Ruby Red.
“Ah! But the ruler was different, you see,” explained Ruby Red.
“But you used to say that justice is not about the individual but about the act. Just because you do something does not make it right, when the same thing was wrong when the FBs did it. Isn’t that how the law was in the time of the FBs? Whether any action is a crime or not depends on who does it, not on what is done? Today we are independent. We are free. Didn’t you used to say that the law was unjust and must be changed?” she demanded.
“Ah!” smiled Ruby Red. “You see, that is still the law. We never actually changed it. Really quite convenient if you ask me. Suits us just fine. After all we lived by it for 200 years, so what’s so different now?”
“You have changed,” said his wife, in a disappointed tone.
“Maybe”, said Ruby Red. “But the chair is the same. Miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep.”
“So are we truly independent?” she would not leave him in peace?

“That”, said Ruby Red, “depends on who is asking”.

[Image Caption and Source : http://delhigreens.com/2009/10/02/on-gandhi-jayanthi-remembering-the-mahatma-to-resurrect-his-principles/ ]