Learning from Life – Morsi

Democracy and what happens in its name

June 17, 2019…the saddest day in recent memory. The day when Dr. Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected President of Egypt, died in a Kangaroo Court defending himself against ridiculous trumped up charges. He was not granted a public funeral, a mark of the fear that even the dead body of a man of truth, inspires in the cowardly hearts of those who manage to kill him. That is because humans can be killed but what they stood for, lives on and continues to inspire others, long after they are gone. May Allahﷻ grant this pious man the best of rewards in Jannah. May the Qur’an become his Hafiz in the Aakhira, as   he was its Hafiz in this life. His death underlines the fact that what is important is not whether we live or die, because everyone dies. What is important is how we die and what we die for. Morsi left his mark in history. I was in Egypt in 2014 and wrote this piece. https://yawarbaig.com/wherearetheleaders/if-i-were-president-of-egypt/

All humans make mistakes and all mistakes are opportunities to learn from. That is their only use. When we learn from them, we don’t make the same mistakes again. When we don’t, we are destined to make the same mistakes over and over until we learn. ‘Nations (people) that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’ Morsi was human and I am sure if he were alive, he would have been very happy to analyze what happened and what should be done differently the next time around.

This is my attempt at trying to learn some lessons from history. Let me warn you in advance that if any analysis is to make meaning or prove useful, it must be divorced from emotion. I know that many of my readers, indeed I myself, can think of many excuses for what Morsi did and explain each action away by seeking refuge behind ‘good intentions’, ‘commitment to Islam’, ‘personal piety of Morsi’ and so on. That would be totally counterproductive. The issue here is not how the supporters of Morsi see his decisions or the actions of his party, but how others did and do. It was that which brought about the tragic events leading to the reinstatement of dictatorship and the death of Morsi and hundreds of his followers. Surely, that is a sacrifice which should be enough for us to ask some tough questions and face some unpleasant facts.

Let us see how things were when Morsi and his party won the election in Egypt. Egypt is an African country but since its conquest by Amr ibn Al A’as ® and Abu Ubaida ® in the time of Omar ibn Al Khattab ®, it has been Arab. Arabic became its language and over the centuries it was the seat of several powerful Muslim Empires, including the Mamluks who in the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260 defeated the army of Hulegu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. The first time that a Mongol army had been defeated by anyone. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ain_Jalut

In more recent times, thanks to its size, population, education, the Arab film industry, Al Azhar University and the global fame in recitation of the Qur’an, Egypt is the leader of the Arab world. Though it is an African country, it is more than likely that anyone who is asked to list the top three most significant countries in Africa and the Arab world, will list Egypt in the Arab world and not in Africa. So, what happens in Egypt has repercussions in the world in general but very particularly and powerfully in the Arab world. Egypt, apart from this is the only country in the Arab world which is not a hereditary monarchy and has had elected leaders, even if all of them, excluding Morsi were elected in sham elections and were really dictators. Yet they were never called ‘King’ or any of its variations and were always ‘President’. This is another reason why Egypt is important because it is a major departure from the norm of rulers and the ruled, in the region. When the so-called Arab Spring happened in Egypt, with the fall of the reigning dictator Hosni Mubarak and the election of Dr. Mohamed Morsi, it was a watershed. It was a marker in history that a new era was about to be ushered in.

The popularity of Morsi and his party was unquestioned. The symbolism of people in Tahrir Square, the energy they displayed, Muslims praying, with Christians standing around them guarding them from any would-be mischief makers, myriad images on TV, social media and print media of the events leading to the final removal of Mubarak and the swearing-in of Morsi, all signaled that the destiny, not only of Egypt, but of the Arab world, was about to change. Very heady stuff or very alarming stuff, depending on who was watching. All went well in the beginning. Morsi was welcomed at home. He met the Coptic Pope and assured him that his government would safeguard the interest of the Christian minority; which though a minority, is very significant and powerful in Egypt and has international support. He was invited by King Abdulla bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia to visit and was accorded full honors as Head of State and promised to help him with financial aid. The fact that he was a Hafiz of the Qur’an was mentioned with almost every mention of him as a person. His humility, piety, clean politics, innocence even, was the talk of the town, as it were. He was welcomed and applauded in all Arab countries and practically everywhere else.

Back home however, expectations were high; in keeping with domestic problems, the chief of them being employment. No matter who the President may be, people need jobs and food on the table. The burden that popularly elected leaders get to bear is to deal with high, most of the time unreasonably high, expectations of those who elected them. Part of the reason is the election campaigns themselves where leaders must promise to pave the streets with gold, in order to win elections. Nobody in today’s world will vote for a leader who speaks the truth and says, ‘After you elect me, you will still have to go to work and work very hard to feed your family. I will promise you a clean government, law and order, safety and security, an education system that will create skilled people over the years, a working medical and health care system and clean and safe cities. But you are responsible for yourselves and your families and you must pay taxes to enable the government to give you all of what I promised you.’ That is perhaps the best speech, which though totally truthful, is guaranteed never to get you elected. So, leaders promise to put not merely bread, but Biryani or Lahm Mandi on every table for every meal at the expense of the state. I am saying this figuratively but the idea in any election campaign is to make the alternative to status quo look so attractive that people will be inspired to do whatever it takes to bring in the new regime. This is the system followed all over the world with its consequences clearly visible to anyone who chooses to see. Most choose not to. Ditto Egypt.

Wikipedia has this to say about the events of the time:

As president, Morsi issued a temporary constitutional declaration in November 2012 that in effect granted him unlimited powers and the power to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts as a pre-emptive move against the expected dissolution of the second constituent assembly by the Mubarak-era judges. The new constitution that was then hastily finalized by the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly, presented to the president, and scheduled for a referendum before the Supreme Constitutional Court could rule on the constitutionality of the assembly, was described by independent press agencies not aligned with the regime as an “Islamist coup”. These issues, along with complaints of prosecutions of journalists and attacks on nonviolent demonstrators, led to the 2012 protests. As part of a compromise, Morsi rescinded the decrees. In the referendum on the new constitution, it was approved by approximately two-thirds of voters.

On 30 June 2013, protests erupted across Egypt, in which protesters called for the president’s resignation. In response to the events, Morsi was given a 48-hour ultimatum by Egypt’s military to meet their demands and to resolve political differences, or else they would intervene by “implementing their own road map” for the country. He was unseated on 3 July by a military coup council consisting of Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, and Coptic Pope Tawadros II. The military suspended the constitution and appointed the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, Adly Mansour, as the interim president. The Muslim Brotherhood protested against the military coup, but the pro-Morsi protests were crushed in the August 2013 Rabaa massacre in which at least 817 civilians were killed. Opposition leader ElBaradei quit in protest at the massacre.

In simple terms what are we seeing here (what did the people see)?

  1. Someone who promised to be democratic, showing that inside the façade lives a dictator who didn’t take long to have himself declared, “granted him unlimited powers and the power to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts”. {Public perception: Alarm, chagrin, rage!!! Did we go through all this to get another Mubarak?}
  2. And then he does something that no leader must EVER do. He, “As part of a compromise, Morsi rescinded the decrees.”  {Opposition’s reaction: Ah!Gotcha!! He is weak. Bring him down. Get rid of him. We respect strength. Nothing else.} The rest is history.

Sisi took over; arrested Morsi, slaughtered protestors and the Arab Spring turned into a wet squib.

Morsi (and his party and government) made four cardinal mistakes, which proved suicidal.

  1. Instead of focusing on economic development, they got bogged down in ideology. Various statements were made, including by Morsi himself, praising democratic elections and thereby directly and indirectly criticizing (Arab) monarchies.
  2. Instead of focusing on building on the goodwill of the minority Christian and Jewish population and bringing them all together on one Egyptian identity, Morsi and his party raised the boogie of the Shari’ah and played right into the hands of their opposition as well as raising the alarm with others. The attempt at trying to get ‘unlimited powers and to legislate without judicial oversight’ were grist to the mill; a Godsend for anyone planning to bring Morsi and his party down. The tragedy is that the only people who seem to have been blind to this was Morsi & Co.
  3. Instead of focusing on internal issues of employment, hunger, health care, education and others, it appeared that there was more focus on external issues, be it the condition of Palestinians or giving aid to disaster affected people in Indonesia. This coming from a country which almost literally was living off aid from America and other Arab countries.
  4. Perhaps the most lethal of them; imagining that personal piety and incorruptibility is a substitute for political sagacity and wisdom.

It bears to note that Sisi was Morsi’s Army Commander, reporting to him as the President and at least in the beginning, at his command and mercy, even to retain his job. Yet Morsi failed to control, let alone neutralize him. Morsi’s death is tragic. But not surprising. His fate was sealed when he displayed weakness.

What could he and his party have done? Here’s my two-cents worth as a rank outsider who by virtue of that, perhaps has a clearer view than those involved. Objectivity and perspective are a function of distance.

  1. Homework. What seems to be clear is that the entire turn of events, winning the election, overwhelming support of all people including those normally opposed, culminating in being able to form a government, came as a big surprise to Morsi and his party. I don’t believe they really believed that they could win. So, they were not prepared to move from their position of at best being in opposition, to being the ruling party. Their reactions seem to me to be just that, reactions, and therefore unplanned. They were acting in the moment without a clear (or any) view of why they were doing what they were doing or what the likely consequences of that may turn out to be. Everything seems to have been a surprise; some pleasant and some shocking. Clearly for all aspiring leaders, homework is critical to success. The Shadow Cabinet in the British Parliament is a brilliant example of preparation. Nothing like simulation to understand the complexity of leadership and how to prepare for it. But then, only those who expect to win, prepare for it. And sadly, those who don’t prepare, squander the gains.
  2. Celebrating is for others. Keep your head squarely on your shoulders and forget about celebrating. Let others do it. You, the leader, must understand that when the celebration is over, it is you to whom everyone is going to look for the future. So, what do you have to show them? Can you deliver on what you promised? If yes, then when? If no, then what is your plan to mitigate the inevitable disappointment? Once again it comes down to preparation, anticipation and the ability to deliver on your promises. People expect a change in status quo. That is what they voted for. They didn’t vote for everything to be the same except the name of the leader. No matter how ‘unreasonable’ that may seem to you, the leader, that is what people expect and you must give it to them. Maybe not everything, but enough to keep their hopes high. If you don’t, then the disappointment after an unexpected victory is proportionate to the joy.  
  3. Focus. For any leader, even more for the head of a major nation like Egypt, there are a million demands on his attention; a million causes all clamoring for him to deal with them. Focus in the art of ignoring fluff. What is fluff in this case? It is everything that didn’t get you elected. Other countries didn’t get you elected, neither did their rulers. Neither did anything except the hopes of your own people. So, deal with them before you do anything else. People elected Morsi not only because they loved him (many didn’t) but because he represented a change from the horrible dictatorship of Mubarak. If that change is not clearly visible, then it raises anxiety. By definition, that anxiety will be disproportionate especially with those who were perhaps anxious in the first place and elected Morsi because they had no alternative. That means the Christians and Liberals. They need reassurance. Constant reassurance that their decision was not wrong and that they picked the right leader who will deliver on his promises and safeguard their interests.

In such situations, people’s patience, tolerance and the willingness to take pain, are always in very short supply. In Morsi and his party’s case, they bore the burden of the negative image of Islam and his party which was created by the global Islamophobia industry that all Muslims are the target of, but at a much higher level. Fears arising out of that, no matter how illogical they may have seemed to Morsi and his supporters, had to be allayed. Perception is reality, even when it is erroneous. You can’t run away from it. You must face it and lay it to rest through your visible actions. As they say about justice, “Not only must it be done, but it must appear to be done.” This holds true even more in this situation. Solution? Communicate, communicate, communicate. Morsi didn’t. On the other hand, his government’s actions fanned the flames and enhanced those fears. The resultant protests and all that followed was certainly not unexpected, except to those who refused to see the writing on the wall.

  • Economic Development. Generate employment. Infrastructure projects, service projects, education and tourism. I have mentioned these in detail in my other article quoted above so won’t repeat that here. But basically, give people something to think about other than politics. Get them off the street and out of the tea shops and into the workplace where they can earn some money. This was all doable provided there had been a focus on it. Apart from the aid from other countries, I have mentioned in my article different ways in which a government can access funds and resources to generate employment and boost the economy. Egypt is a resource rich country with a highly capable population. To make it economically strong is not a difficult task. What has drained is decades of dictatorship and the corruption that generates. A democratically elected, clean government was just what the doctor ordered for Egypt. Sadly, it never took off.
  • Act with decisiveness. A wrong decision pushed through does less damage than a right decision that you are tentative and hesitant in implementing. Morsi’s hardest task was to deal with a military that has gotten used to ruling. Like Pakistan, where the army runs the show behind the scenes and political leaders dance to their tune. This was probably the hardest task that Morsi had; a legacy not to his liking or of his creation, but his responsibility, nevertheless. What should he have done? I don’t think any elaboration is necessary. The supremacy of civilian rule needed to be established and institutionalized in a hostile environment. That needed a level of wisdom, diplomacy and ruthlessness, which Morsi was not capable of. Like major life saving surgery, it would have been painful and messy but needed to be done with decisiveness and speed. That didn’t happen. Maybe Morsi was too decent a human being for that. Whatever be the reason, the result was the resurrection of dictatorship.

All that remains is to mourn the passing of a good man and of the chance of a change of destiny for Egypt. May his memory be honored, and may others learn lessons so that what he wanted to achieve may one day be achieved by others. For men die. Not ideas or dreams. Dreams live on in the hearts of people, to one day emerge and usher in a world that others, like Morsi died for.

Democracy and Islam

The debate starts once again, “Should Muslims participate in politics in a democracy, since ‘democracy’ is itself not an Islamic form of government?” Let me try to put this in perspective. Before I begin let me state that I am not talking about the philosophy of democracy i.e. Supremacy of the People instead of Supremacy of Allahﷻ. Let me state also that in terms of Islam, the only one worthy of worship and obedience is Allahﷻ and that only Allahﷻ has the right to make laws which He did and His Messengerﷺ conveyed to us. Anyone who considers laws opposed to the laws of Allahﷻ as being superior or even permissible, has committed Shirk. This article is about the issue of Muslims living in democratic countries, often as minorities. What must they do? What options do they have and what are the consequences of these options?

To the question, “Should Muslims participate in politics in a democracy, since ‘democracy’ is itself not an Islamic form of government?” I would like to state that first of all, there is no specific form of government that is ‘Islamic’. If anyone disputes that statement and says that the ‘Khilafa’ is the only form of government that is permissible in Islam, then we have to ask why it is that ever since the ascension of Yazid bin Muawiyya, monarchy has been accepted as ‘Islamic’ even by Sahaba who lived under Yazid and supported his rule? This continued even though the terms, ‘Khalifa’ and ‘Khilafa’ continued to be used off and on, until the institution of Khilafa was finally abolished in 1923. For the record, the Ottoman rulers called themselves ‘Sultan’ and not ‘Khalifa’, though the government itself was called ‘Khilafa’. How does that work?

So, what is the Islamic form of government?

Islam is concerned with the nature of the government and not necessarily its form.

Consider this: the Khilafa Rashida itself followed three different processes to choose a successor in the case of the first three Khulafa.

In the case of Abu Bakr Siddique (R) it was an election of the Supreme Leader by lesser leaders in Madina. This was the usual way of the Arabs when electing a new Ameer or Chief of their clans where the decision would be taken by a few significant and powerful elders/leaders and everyone else would accept and support it. So also, in this case, it was not one-man-one-vote involving the entire population of Madina. Even if it had been, hypothetically speaking one could have argued that the people of Makkah, Ta’aif, Najd and all the tribes of the Hijaz had not voted. Yet, the leader being chosen would have authority over all Muslims. Abu Bakr Siddique (R) was elected by the people who had gathered in the Saqifa Bani Sa’ada and was later ratified by the rest of the community in Masjid An-Nabawi when other people gave him the Baya (Oath or Pledge) of Allegiance. In the election in the Saqifa Bani Sa’ada, which itself was not planned but was impromptu, many of the important Sahaba of Rasoolullahﷺ including Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R) were not present and neither was their opinion sought. This was not deliberate or by design but because Ali bin Abi Talib (R) was busy with the burial of Rasoolullahﷺ he was not disturbed, and he gave his pledge the next day.

But since Abu Bakr Siddique (R) was already accepted as the foremost among the Sahaba and was their leader, nobody objected and they all, including Ali bin Abi Talib (R) gave him their Pledge. They remembered that Rasoolullahﷺ had always sought his advice and used to give him precedence over everyone else because of him having been the first man to accept Islam and for his service to Islam and to Rasoolullahﷺ. They remembered that Abu Bakr (R) was Rasoolullahﷺ’s companion in the cave during their Hijra from Makkah to Madina. People remembered that Rasoolullahﷺ had given him Imamat of Salah from the Thursday before the Monday when he passed away. For the Sahaba, that was a clear sign that Rasoolullahﷺ preferred and had thereby nominated Abu Bakr Siddique (R) as his successor. Having said that, there are people to this day, fourteen centuries later, who differ and say that the Khilafa should have gone to Ali bin Abi Talib (R).

The fact that Ali bin Abi Talib (R) himself never said this nor did he object to the leadership of Abu Bakr Siddique (R) and gladly gave his Baya (oath) of Allegiance with sincerity (what else do we expect of Ali bin Abi Talib (R)?) cuts no ice with them. We will put that dispute aside as it is not relevant to this discussion and look at what happened two years later, when Sayyidina Abu Bakr Siddique (R) was dying.

Abu Bakr Siddique (R) took the advice of the Asharum Mubashshara (the 10 Sahaba who had been given the good news of Jannah by Rasoolullahﷺ) about his proposed choice, Omar ibn Al Khattab (R), as his successor. All of them except one (Zubair bin Awwam (R)) accepted this choice and so Abu Bakr Siddique (R) called Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) and nominated him. This action of Abu Bakr Siddique (R) was in keeping with the informal but clearly understood and accepted hierarchy among the Sahaba in which the Asharum Mubashshara came first followed by the Badriyyeen (Sahaba who participated in the Battle of Badr) and then everyone else.

Ten years later when Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) had been stabbed and was dying, he called the rest of the Asharum Mubashshara and told them to choose one among them to succeed him. Some of them declined to accept the role of Khalifa. There were two contenders who remained. Abdur Rahman ibn Awf (R), who was a scholar among the Sahaba and one of the wealthiest businessmen of the time was himself from the Asharum Mubashshara and who had declined to be considered for Khilafa, was chosen to pick between them. He decided to consult the Sahaba who had participated in the Battle of Badr and other significant leaders in Madina and at the end of this consultation, he borrowed the Amama (turban) of Rasoolullahﷺ and wearing it, he ascended the Minbar of Masjid An-Nabawi and announced Othman ibn Affan (R) as the leader who had been chosen to succeed Omar ibn Al Khattab (R). Everyone accepted this choice, including Ali bin Abi Talib (R) who had also accepted Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) as Khalifa and worked under him as a judge.

Othman ibn Affan (R)’s Khilafa ended in war and Ali bin Abi Talib (R) was forced to accept the Khilafa to put an end to the worst turmoil and violence that the Muslims had ever seen. However, this was also contested, and we have a history of ever more complex conflicts thereafter. Once again, I am not going into details here as they are not relevant. What is relevant however, is that twenty years later, when Muawiyya bin Abi Sufyan (R) was dying, he nominated his son Yazid bin Muawiyya (also called Yazid I) as Khalifa, thereby dispensing with the entire selection/election process and converting the Khilafa into a hereditary monarchy.

This became the default Muslim (Islamic) form of government all over the world, from the Banu Umayyah who started it, to the Banu Abbas, Fatimi, Ayyubi, Saffavid, Mughal, Uthmani (Ottoman) and other rulers right down to our modern times, who all accepted hereditary monarchy as the way Muslim lands were to be governed. Before we blame the kings however, let us reflect on the fact that none of their subjects, including Sahaba, all the Imams of Fiqh, all the Ulama of the Tabiyyin and their followers including to this day, have ever criticized or refused to accept hereditary monarchy, calling it ‘unislamic’ nor called for the establishment of the Khilafa. One reason could be that the Khilafa Rashida itself was established in three different ways. So, which of them would one choose?

The point that I want to make is that it appears from reading our history that Islam is more concerned with the nature of government than its form. Our great classical and modern scholars seem to be agreed upon this and this seems to be the majority view. Islam is concerned with how the government is carried on; whether it establishes the laws of Allahﷻ as mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah, whether it establishes justice or not, whether the poor and weak are taken care of, whether there is corruption or not, and whether law is enforced so that crime is minimized if not eradicated. It is not concerned with how the government itself came into being or its structure, if that government does what all good governments are supposed to do i.e. good governance. Therefore, different forms of governments were accepted as valid and legal if they provided good governance.

Of course, from the Islamic point of view, for a government to be considered Islamic, whichever form of government it may be, it must follow the Divine Laws of the Shari’ah and must not legislate against the Laws of Allahﷻ. Governments are free to legislate and pass laws to ensure the best for all people, without denying, altering or going against Divine Laws. For examples, laws of taxation, zoning of cities, regulation of road traffic and so on can be made because they don’t contradict the Laws of Allahﷻ. However, laws which make Halaal what Allahﷻ prohibited, for example, interest-based banking, consumption of alcohol and other addictive substances and so on, are not permissible and any government that makes such laws would be unislamic even if the government was run by Muslims.

I am not claiming that democracy is the best form of government from a Islamic theological or philosophical perspective but that it is the best among all that exist today. There are some clear issues about parliamentary democracy which must be borne in mind. A parliamentary democracy is the rule by political parties, where the party which gets the most votes rules the country. This means that independent candidates, no matter how good they are, have no chance to be effective or to be able to form a government. Candidates who stand on tickets from any political party must necessarily follow the party line in all matters, no matter what their own opinion may be. The party is run, not always by elected representatives but often by its ideologues and leaders, who need not be elected at all but who direct all policies and actions of the party.

It is in this context that we must look at democracy today when some people say that Muslims must not participate in democracy because it is not ‘Islamic’. My contention is that there is no such thing as an ‘Islamic’ form of government. What is ‘Islamic’ about a government, lies in its actions of governing. Obviously, there is great misunderstanding about forms of government which is exacerbated by our general lack of knowledge of history so that we have no perspective or decision-making ability. We must correct this urgently.

What is the role of Muslim citizens who live in democratic countries? Should they participate in government, from voting, to standing for election to discharging their responsibilities in difference capacities in Parliaments and Senates? Or should they abstain from doing any of these things. And if they should abstain, then how are they to ensure that their rights, needs and issues are represented and addressed by a government that they didn’t elect or show any interest in?

My contention is that democracy, like monarchy is simply a form of government; in terms of governance. Citizens of democratic countries must participate in democracy for the simple reason that all change can only be initiated and implemented from within. As a matter of interest, if we take the very first form of government of the Muslim State after Rasoolullahﷺ passed away, it was a ‘democratic’ decision. As I mentioned earlier, it was different from our present form of universal suffrage leading to universal suffering (except for politicians) but it was democracy, nevertheless.

The argument that most of these countries are not Muslim (meaning that the rulers are not Muslim) is met with two arguments:

  1. How ‘Islamic’ is a government where the rulers are Muslim but permit interest-based banking in their realms, when they know perfectly well that Allahﷻ not only prohibited it but declared war on behalf of Himself and His Messengerﷺ on those who participate in interest-based banking? How can a government, which is classified as an enemy of Allahﷻ by the definition of the Qur’an, be called Islamic?
  2. In the Shari’ah we follow the principle that if you can’t do (have) everything, you don’t reject or stop doing everything.

So, if we can’t have the perfect state of government that Rasoolullahﷺ provided when he was the ruler, we will live with and support rulers (and governments) who provide justice, safety, law & order, economic development and general protection of rights and privileges even if they do other things which are not perfect. We don’t support them in things which are against Islamic law (e.g. we will not participate in interest-based banking, even if it is allowed in the country) but we will support them in everything that is for the benefit of everyone.

Authority can be delegated. Not responsibility. Responsibility remains with the original person. Meaning that if the one to whom authority was delegated fails to perform, it is the one who delegated it, who will still be responsible. Often there is confusion between authority and responsibility. Authority is the permission to act. Responsibility refers to the consequences of the action. That is why training is very important, before delegating authority. The ruler delegates authority to various officials, but the responsibility remains with the ruler whether they succeed or fail. It will be called the success or failure of the ruler. So also, the CEO, Head of Family or whatever; delegates and should delegate authority, because he or she can’t do everything themselves. But the responsibility i.e. accountability, remains with them. If they delegate authority without preparing their subordinates or delegate it to people who are incompetent, then it is their rule or tenure or performance which would have failed.

We, the people of the nation, through the ballot box have delegated the responsibility of running the nation to those we elected. Hence, we retain the responsibility for their success or failure. It comes back to my favorite political quote: “We get the government we deserve”.

We should realize that we have delegated authority. Not responsibility. So, if those to whom authority was delegated, failed, we need to take back the authority and realize that to give ourselves good government is our responsibility, not anyone else’s.

In conclusion I would like to state clearly and unequivocally that Muslims living in democratic countries must participate in government in every way knowing that it is entirely in keeping with Islam to do so. They must participate because Islam orders them to support all that is beneficial for everyone, Muslim or otherwise and to do that in a way that showcases Islam for the rest of the world. Muslims must participate in democracy, because only by participation can we ensure that our interests are addressed, and our needs met. We have seen many examples of what happens when we don’t participate.

The first thing to do therefore is to ensure that your name is listed as a voter. Then YOU MUST GO TO VOTE. Whether it is raining or not, whatever be the situation, you MUST GO AND VOTE. Remember this is the only opportunity that you have in a democracy to be heard, to influence your own future and to protect yourself from those who wish to hurt you.

Finally, a party is elected not by the majority of the population of the country but by the majority of those who cast their vote. This last line is the key to modern democracies and the reason why you must vote. If you don’t enroll yourself and don’t go and vote, then don’t blame anyone else for the result. You are responsible, and you will pay the price.

 

Strategic advice to Indians in South Africa

Strategic advice to Indians in South Africa

 
In 2005, I wrote an article titled, ‘State of the Nation’, after a trip to South Africa at the invitation of the Jamiat ul Ulama where I met and addressed hundreds (perhaps over a thousand or more in total) of Ulama, businessmen, scholars, teachers and parents in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. I also met and addressed exclusive groups of political, community and business leaders in these cities. After that trip, I documented my impressions and made an analysis of the situation of Indian Muslims in South Africa (with a special focus on Gauteng Province) in the hope that it would be useful to those who cared to read it. I am attaching a link to that article for anyone who is interested in it. It makes for interesting reading as a comparative article to what I am writing here to see what has changed in the past 12 years.
 
Since then, I have travelled to South Africa every year, with two trips in some years (including this year 2017). I have spoken at two National Conventions of the Association of Muslim Schools, the National Convention of IMA, at several meetings organized by Al Ansar, Minara Chamber of Commerce, University of Kwazulu Natal (Business school), Jamiat ul Ulama, MJC and delivered more Juma bayans than I can recall. During these trips, I have once again had the privilege of meeting and speaking to a cross section of South African Muslim society that most South Africans don’t have access to. Of special note is my meeting with the late Ahmed Kathrada who spent over two hours talking about his experiences in the Freedom Struggle and the challenges that Free South Africa faces and asked me many probing questions. At the end of that meeting, he said to me, while giving me a signed copy of his memoirs, ‘You are a very peculiar Maulana. But we need many peculiar Maulanas like you.’ I cherish the memory of that meeting and consider his comment as a badge of honor.
 
During all these trips, I have listened more than I have spoken, learned more than I have taught and benefited more than I could have imagined. I therefore feel it to be a responsibility on me to share that learning and my analysis of what I see happening in South Africa in these past 12 years. As that is half of South Africa’s lifespan as a free, independent nation, I believe it is important. I leave it to the reader to decide.
 
n  Please read the article on this link:
 
n  Then ask:
n   What has changed since 2005?
n  Which of these recommendations have been acted upon?
 
Leonardo Da Vinci says“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
 
I believe it is time – it was time 20 years ago – high time, for South African Indians to wake up and take stock of who they are, what their value and relevance is to society and what they need to do about it. And to remember that value is determined by the receiver, not the giver. Value is a factor of market perception. If you want to know your value, you need to ask others.
 
I would like to begin by giving an example of the Parsee community in India.
 
Parsees of India
 
n  < 1%
n  Highly respected, highly influential
n  Highly educated
n  Top 5 employers/tax payers
n  Top 5 wealthiest
 
The key word here is ‘contribution’. What goes without saying is that the contribution is done in a way that is clear to all concerned, highly visible and highly appreciated. In one word, if one were to ask, “If the Parsees of India and all that they represent, disappeared from the land, would that make a difference to the people of India?’ I don’t think that is a question that takes much thought to answer, if you live in India. Just to drive home the point totally, imagine India without Tata and Godrej; just two Parsee names. I rest my case.
 
I would suggest that you do the same analysis with South African Indians. Ask the question, ‘If the Indians of South Africa disappeared from the land with all their assets, signs, symbols, culture and religion, what difference would that make to the South African Black people?’ If you wanted to use just one name and not two, ‘Guptas’, then the answer would be clear. But bad jokes apart, you know what I mean. Indispensability is critical to survival. You must ask, ‘As a community, are we indispensable, irreplaceable, critical to survival of South Africa?’ Forget the past. Ask this question in today’s context. Human memory is notoriously short. Think today because it is today, not yesterday, which will influence tomorrow.
 
Some data you may need to do this analysis:
 
Extent of Indian businesses in South Africa in terms of:
 
1.      Business volume (Billions of $) of Indian businesses.
 
2.     Nature of business (strategic: large scale farming, infrastructure development, power, finance, mining, health and education) versus commerce (retail, FMCG, restaurants – generally service sector with some exceptions).
 
3.     Extent of employment created by Indian businesses (Tata Steel alone employs 74000 people and is worth $25 billion).
 
4.     Tax paid by Indian businesses in South Africa.
 
5.     Cost of replacement of Indian businesses and Indians in society.
 
6.     Employee satisfaction of people working for Indian businesses, households (you may like to compare all of the above with White Owned Businesses to get some comparative data). Has anyone ever done an Employee Satisfaction Survey nationally, especially with domestic employees?
 
7.     Do you have a source that is unquestionable and comparable, demographically and in terms of GDP for this data? Questionable data, partisan reporting does more damage than good.
Remember that contribution is a number. It is measurable and if it is not measured or unmeasurable then it is not visible and will not be appreciated. I know that you are going to say that you don’t have the means to measure the things that I have mentioned above. I say to you that, that in itself, is your answer. Once again, I rest my case.
 
You will notice that I have not mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle. That is not accidental. The harsh reality is that today, it doesn’t matter. I mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle in my article in 2005. Twelve years have passed since then. Memory was dim then. Today it is almost gone. The generation walking the street in South Africa, the generation which will go to vote in 2019, the generation that is listening to those using the plank of race and xenophobia is a generation that didn’t see apartheid.  They don’t know what it meant to rush to find some means of transport to get out of a White area where they went to work, before dark, because they had no permit. They have never seen ‘Whites only’ signs on park benches, toilets, entrances and exits and in every part of their lives. They don’t know what it meant to pay the same amount of money but get third rate service only because you were Black, even if you were in Africa. They don’t know what it meant to be Black in a nation ruled by Whites and be treated as subhuman in your own land. They don’t know any of that. True, that they have forgotten that this is because of the sacrifices of those who fought for independence (Black, White & Indian) and gave up their present for the future of this generation. Yes, they have forgotten. That is sad, that is bad but that is the reality.
 
On the other hand, they know what it means to be Black in a nation ruled by Blacks but still not have jobs, still be treated badly, still be poor while you see others with more than you have. They neither have the wisdom to see that this is not the fault of Indians. It was not Indians who deprived them of jobs or who made promises that couldn’t possibly have been fulfilled. It was not Indians who didn’t tell them the truth that gaining independence was merely to cross the threshold of freedom. After that it takes the next two generations to build a nation. It was not Indians who hid these facts from them. All this they don’t understand and nobody, least of all those who want to use them for their own ends, will tell them. All that they know is that they are suffering, that they are angry and they need a target for their anger. That target is the one who has more than they do, who flaunts it, who shows it off in his lifestyle and who really has no power or strength to protect his assets. That is like taking ice cream from a child. That you are going to be hungry again, once the ice cream is gone, is not something that they are willing to reflect on. That it is much better to learn how to make ice cream is not something that they are willing to think about.
 
Yes, I know all the reactions that I am going to get to the statement above, “We didn’t get this for nothing, we worked hard for it, our parents sacrificed their lives so that we could have what we have today. These people don’t want to work hard, they want it all on a platter, they have an entitlement mentality, they think they can simply wish for wealth and it will fall into their laps, one day they will find out.”
 
I say to you, ‘Right on all counts. But they will discover that after you have disappeared from the land.
 
We have the history of several other African nations as evidence that the strategy of xenophobia; using a prosperous community as a target for the anger generated from broken promises of the government; works. It is highly successful in winning elections. We have several examples of that globally, not only in Africa. There is no reason to believe that it won’t work in South Africa. It is emotion not fact that generates mass action. And it is emotion that is the tool being used. One of the most powerful of emotions, far more than love, is fear. More than fear is hatred, that comes out of fear. So, fear and hatred mongers will get elected. The target community will enter the hallowed halls of history and the public will face some more broken promises, but that will be of no use to those who were used and discarded.’
 
Let me begin with my SWOT analyses of South African Indian Muslims. I would suggest that you do the same for South African Indians collectively. The beginning of the solution lies in an objective, even brutal, analysis of facts as they are. Not as we would like to view them. So, please be completely frank. If you have any doubts, talk to the other side, face to face. And listen to them. Don’t argue. Listen quietly. Go, do it.
 
 SWOT Analysis of South African Indian Muslims
 
Strengths
 
n  Homogeneous, compact, consolidated (changing now)
n  Relatively wealthy
n  Legacy of the Freedom Struggle (getting diluted rapidly)
n  State is supportive (changing now)
n  Ulama & Maktabs and community support for them
n  Harmonious relationships all around (changing now)
 
Warning: Strengths you ignore become weaknesses
 
Weaknesses
 
n  < 1%
n  Changing population demographic & dynamics
n  No presence in strategic business areas
n  Racist attitudes & intolerance for any critical perspective
n  Low/no presence in politics, government, judiciary, executive, military
n  Poor education – Resultant myopia & rigidity
n  Internal conflicts are a cancer but which is funded, encouraged and enjoyed
 
Warning: Weaknesses you ignore can destroy you
 
Opportunities
 
n  Continue to live with dignity, prosperity and grace
n  Retain and build on the legacy of the Freedom Struggle
n  Be perceived as highly beneficial, essential, irreplaceable part of society
n  Become icons and benchmarks for the Muslim world, of how to live in a pluralistic, multicultural society
 
But only opportunities you leverage can help you
 
Threats
 
n  Become redundant, irrelevant and soft targets
n  Used to further other’s agendas and discarded when usefulness is over
n  Racism, rigidity, isolation and ignorance leads to annihilation
n  Become the subject of a Harvard case study in AD (Accelerated Demise)
Threats ignored… well, let me leave it at that
History has the potential to teach us great and valuable lessons without the pain and cost that those who lived those times, paid for them.
 
However, as someone said, ‘What we learn from history is, that we learn nothing.’
And as someone else said, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
I say, ‘The choice is yours.’
 
History lesson: Indian Example
 
I believe that South African Muslims are repeating the mistakes that their counterparts (and ancestors) made in India. Indian Muslims were at the forefront of the Freedom Struggle in 1859 and then again in 1930’s – 40’s which resulted in final independence from the British on August 15, 1947. Indian Muslims with their Ulama in their vanguard, paid a heavy price in blood and lives to win freedom. After that, they retreated into their Madaaris, Khankhas and Darul Ulooms and the common Muslim people went back home and continued with their lives. No attempt was made to consolidate the gains of the independence movement, to be active politically, to fill positions in the administrative services, military, judiciary and police. No attempt was made by Muslims who had considerable wealth to get into industry, not even to invest with other industrialists. Madrassas and Darul Ulooms consciously remained apart from universities and strongly discouraged (forbade) the learning of English, science, math and other modern subjects. Even with Aligarh Muslim University, to this day, there is no active academic relationship and an atmosphere of caution.
 
I won’t go into the reasons, real and imaginary, for all this but the fact remains that this resulted in Indian Muslims being sidelined everywhere, their contribution in the independence struggle forgotten and them as a community being used as a vote bank and then discarded once they had fulfilled their purpose. Extremist Hindu parties used (and continue to use) Indian Muslims as a target to fuel hatred and get some cheap votes by making inflammatory speeches, which make the speeches that some of the extremist Black politicians are making in South Africa sound like love stories. These speeches routinely result in pogroms and since 1947 literally thousands of Muslims have died violently at the hands of roving mobs. And this continues. Nothing happens to those who create all this except that it helps them to get elected. Those who advised Muslims to stay away from politics and to ignore the world are as responsible for this tragic state of affairs as those who did and continue to do the killing.
 
The Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi has some horrific data about the issue of so-called ‘Communal Riots’, which is the euphemistic name given to anti-Muslim pogroms. https://www.iosworld.org/ . The lynching of Muslims by roving mobs of so-called Gau Rakshaks (Cow Protectors) is another case in point to show that it is emotion, not fact that fuels action. That no action is taken against these vigilantes is a message for South African Muslims and Indians to reflect upon.
 
The thing to remember is that the number of Muslims in India is ten times the total population of South Africa. There are four Muslims in India for every man, woman and child of any religion or color in South Africa. Yet these numbers can’t help us. I am stating all these tragic facts here because I see a reflection of our history in the current events of South Africa.  For the past twelve years I have been trying to say to you that South African Indians and Muslims are making the same mistakes in a newly independent (now over 20 years) South Africa, that Indian Muslims made in an independent India 70 years ago. Same actions give the same results. That is why I want to briefly quote the lessons from India so that South African Indians can learn from them and not repeat our tragic history.
 
What we learn from the history of Muslims in India’s Freedom struggle is:
 
n  Strategically wrong decisions led to abiding hostility and the squandering of the gains of the Freedom Struggle
n  Apathy led to filling of the vacuum by others
n  Divided voting = lost advantage
n  No strategic focus, game plan or action to date
n  Internal conflicts = collective weakness = suicide
n  200 million Muslims became irrelevant
 
I quote from the speech of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (RA) at the inauguration of the Tabligh Markaz in Dewsbury, UK. He gave some very important advice which is relevant to Indian Muslims who migrated to other countries, including South Africa.
 
n  This is a new land – don’t transplant your controversies from India & Pakistan
n  Don’t isolate yourself because it is your Akhlaaq (manners) and Mu’ashira (society) which is the most powerful means of Da’awa
n  Participate in politics because only those who participate in the process can participate in the decisions
 
In a democracy, the only thing which counts is the vote.
And everyone, including your domestic worker, is a voter.
 
I believe there are some harsh realities that South African Indians in general and Muslims in particular must face, own up to and change. I say Muslims in particular because these are attitudes which run counter to Islam. If South African Muslims displayed the Akhlaaq of Rasoolullah and the Sahaba, we would not have a situation like the one we have now. However, instead of that you seem to have brought across the seas, attitudes of your villages in Gujarat and elsewhere, with your shortsighted, narrowmindedness, your prejudice and your racism. India is a very racist culture. Indian racism goes back thousands of years and is ingrained in and is a part of the Hindu culture in its caste system.
 
Muslims who should have rejected it, because there is no caste system in Islam, embraced it and created a caste system of their own in Indian Islam (Ashraf, Ajlaf & Ardhal) that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This caste system was created and supported by Indian Ulama and that is the case to this day. Apart from other things, it is a system that is based on discrimination on the basis of color with ‘fair’ (nothing to do with justice) being the first requirement, seen as good, superior, desirable and dark being inferior, undesirable and looked down upon. Just look at the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers and find me a single one that says, ‘Wanted: A bride who is dark in color’, and I will place my turban at your feet.
 
That attitude was also brought with Indians and Indian Muslims to South Africa. In South Africa of the apartheid era this worked very well and was supported by local laws, segregation regulations and housing. Indians lived in their towns separated from Black townships and White areas, always aspiring to be considered equal to Whites and apart and superior to Blacks. Even someone as enlightened as Gandhi made comments comparing Indian and Black people which are highly embarrassing to put it politely. At the cost of sounding apologetic, this was a factor of the Indian cultural mindset of which Gandhi was also a victim as was almost everyone else. To say that Indians are not racist is a lie. To try to justify it by asking, ‘What about the tribalism of Black people?’ is to try to say that one wrong justifies another.
 
Two wrongs don’t make a right. The purpose of saying this is not to blame but to identify a critical problem so that we can cure it. Especially for Muslims, racism is Haraam and a great sin that if not dealt with, will result in great humiliation when we meet Allah. No matter what happened in the past, it is something that needs urgent attention and must be rooted out. The place to begin is in our homes and schools.
 
Harsh Realities
 
n  This is a Black country and you are not Black – not because Black people rejected you but because you rejected Black people
n  You are seen as a highly visible, enviable, resource rich, ostentatious, insensitive, inward looking, weak, defenseless, non-beneficial minority
n  You are a propagandist’s dream – a soft target i.e. the fuel which can be used to further their own ends
 
Ignoring reality is the fastest way to become its victim
However, you can still live here as ‘different’ but highly respected and valued – but only provided you do the right things which begins with putting your own house in order.
 
Face the Reality
 
n  Strategic Focus is like air – without it you will die painfully and quickly
n  Learn to work with others different from you in every way – except a common destiny
n  Internal conflicts are cancer – must be eliminated urgently
n  Those who cause them must be hunted down and axed out
 
The time to tolerate negativity is over
 
What to do?
 
Change your mindset
 
Any system, left unattended degenerates into chaos. Gardens, families, marriages, countries, organizations, all follow the same pattern. They all need regular attention.
 
Critical need
 
  1. Recognize that racism is a life-threatening issue (quite literally)
  2. Create a high visibility impact & do it fast to demonstrate that you are taking action
  3. Avoid getting isolated and get everyone on board. Stay silent and you become the next victim.  
  4. Spend enough time, money and energy to make an impact. (Key word: Enough)
  5. Find leadership which can bridge boundaries
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Find Inspirational Leadership
 
n  Find leadership:
 
n  Which is inclusive and can transcend boundaries
n  Which can communicate and build trust with diverse people
n  Which is trusted by all parties to be just and impartial
n  Which has the humility to learn from others
n  Which has enough strength to ensure compliance
 
Warning: Internal Conflict just got upgraded to cardiac arrest status
 
I don’t think there is a single leader of any faith community among Indian South Africans who can fit this bill. The alternative is to find an organization which can perform this role. In my opinion, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is such an organization. I leave it to you to collectively decide. But let me say right now that unless it is a genuine collective decision which is supported wholeheartedly by all sections of the Indian South African community, it won’t work. Some South African Muslims have a rich history of backstabbing their own leaders, of loose cannons who go off half-cocked and create all kinds of confusion and disruption, of being hypocritical in their speech and actions. I submit to you that the time for playing these games is over.
 
Speak to the opposition
 
n  Take the wind out of their sails by acting urgently on matters that need action
n  Show the opposition how they will damage their own political goals if they take the route of xenophobic violence. Find someone who can talk to them and who they will listen to. You need someone with credibility with them.
n  Build a popular front for nation building by including everyone in it – Black, White, Indian or Coloured
n  Reject the language of race which still divides you. If you think you are South African, stop referring to each other by color. You are human beings. Not pawns in a chess game.
 
Immediately put your own house in order
 
n  Accept publicly that things have gone wrong and that you (Indian community) will put your own house in order
n  Set up an Ombudsman Desk in every city where people can report human rights violations. Investigate all cases objectively and ensure (enforce) proper compensation. There is no excuse for breaking the law of the land.
n  Conduct Cross-Cultural Sensitivity & Understanding programs and preach race equality everywhere, especially in religious institutions and gatherings.
n  Start a Community Dialogue between Black & Indian people. Include others.
Don’t give fuel to others to light a fire under you
On-going with long term focus: Build a credit balance
 
  1. Talent Search (among underprivileged): pick highly talented youngsters irrespective of race and tutor & mentor them
  2. Build state of the art schools in Black areas
  3. Educate one Black child for one Indian child in your own private schools
  4. Start Entrepreneurship training & startup funding for young Black entrepreneurs
  5. Invest in long term development projects (not charity and food packets): housing, health care, clean water, sanitation, kitchen gardens, livestock management, child care, sports and adult literacy.
  6. Get into the executive, judiciary and military – Remember that it takes 35 years for to make a General, Judge or Minister
  7. Become active in politics at all levels, from voting to working as political activists to standing for election. Set up a fund to help those Indian political candidates who have the talent, ability and willingness but not the funds for campaigning.
  8. Set up Chairs in all universities for business, politics, education, health, environment and Islamic studies
  9. Stop all public criticism & pamphleteering – you are a bad joke. Attacking people, you disagree with, only shows your own ignorance and bad manners. It is not enough to talk about Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf. You need to practice them. This must be demonstrated especially by the Ulama. The present situation is totally unacceptable and a serious disservice to the community. Beware that if the present situation doesn’t change, it will result in a total alienation of the community from the Ulama.
  10. Get into media – at all levels – urgently. Create a media which is fair, intelligent, proactive and courageous. Not the propaganda machines that we see today in the name of media.
Treat it like it is – investment in YOUR future
 
Finally, most important of all is to remember that the window of opportunity is fast closing
 

 

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
Dhan ki Baat

Dhan ki Baat

I read this article with great interest.

The final sentence is salutary. I want to add that whether governments or judges guard or curtail rights will depend on what we, the people, do about it. Active citizenship is not something that we are used to. We are still used to being the ‘ruled’, looking up to our elected governments (even calling them) our ‘rulers’. That they are not rulers is something that still remains to sink in, both in our consciousness and theirs. So, they behave like feudal lords and we behave like serfs. We even have terms that stink of feudalism to this day, used by our administrators e.g. Collector’s Peshi, Girijana Durbar, etc. There are many others but this is sufficient to illustrate.

That they exist because we put them there, will help us to understand our own responsibility for whatever is happening in the nation. Then we will change from being complainers to solution seekers. That is the real meaning of democracy, which I hope we will be able to demonstrate.

Take the much mentioned ‘demonetization’. I am not going to talk about its economic effects. Many, more qualified than I, have analyzed it threadbare and all that our media has been able to say is that it will not affect BJP’s chances of being elected again in 2019 because Modiji has changed his narrative. Little do they realize what that sounds like. Is election a matter of someone creating or promoting a story and the listeners reacting to it like rats to the pied piper’s tune? But that is the result of living in two worlds, democracy in theory (in the mind) and feudalism in reality. As I mentioned, economists have written about demonetization and time has shown the truth of what they wrote; that it was a body blow to the economy for no valid reason at all.

What is far more significant in my view is the attitude and behavior around demonetization. It was a step taken by the in secrecy even from closest aides, all of whom expressed surprise before slipping their masks back on again. It was declared as a step taken by the Prime Minister on the advice of a man who is not a cabinet member or even in government. All to prevent owners of black money from escaping.

We are told that the PM believed him and took this step almost unilaterally and issued a proclamation that from midnight of November 8, 2016. Kings issue proclamations. Not elected leaders. Elected leaders consult their council of ministers and in a matter as serious as this, they consult a larger cross section of leaders of the public (Opposition), perhaps even the public themselves. After all, the two excuses for demonetization; curbing black money and funding of terrorist activity’ are laughably inaccurate, as subsequent events have shown beyond all doubt. That is why the narrative was changed to, ‘We did it to make the country a cashless economy.’


Why would you change a narrative unless it had failed? After all, the earlier one of ridding the country of black money and terror funding and paying loads of money into the bank account of every Indian citizen sounded so much more exciting than saying that it was an exercise to support banks and credit card companies. Even more especially when the earlier statement was made so powerfully: http://www.abplive.in/india-news/demonetisation-even-if-you-burn-me-alive-i-am-not-scared-says-narendra-modi-445603 Burn me alive?? Drama sells.

So why change it? Incidentally, can I see a show of hands from all those who received cash in their accounts from the government as a result of return of black money including that secreted in Swiss Bank accounts? Political parties need not respond because after all the sweetest part of the change was that donations to political parties were sought to be exempted from disclosure.  That is when I decided to start my own political party, Tan Man Dhan Mukti Morcha – TMDM² ©. All donations welcome.

Well, India became cashless, but perhaps not in the way that the term ‘cashless’ is meant to be understood by the spin doctors.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask the housewife who saved small change from spending money that her husband used to give her, for thirty years and had Rs. 3 lakhs. Suddenly, on November 8, she was promoted to the status of a black marketer, money launderer (take your pick or invent your own names). Her legitimate savings, the symbol of our culture of family responsibility, caring for the future of others, the very spirit of motherhood, became illegitimate for her. On the face of it, all she had to do was to go to a bank and exchange it for the nice new colorful notes. But in reality, she would have had to open an account, get a PAN card, deposit the money, answer a million questions about where she got it from (all based on the assumption that she got them through illegitimate means) and pay tax on it. Tax on money which her husband had already paid tax on. And of course, she would have to answer to her husband (in many cases, a fate worse than death) about how she had all this money but never told him about it. That is how she entered the cashless economy by becoming cashless herself. As I mentioned, I am not talking GDP or economic numbers. I am talking about the izzat (honor, self-respect) of honest people, their feelings, family dynamics, domestic power equations and the disempowerment of ordinary people, especially women.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask those who died, standing in queues at banks. Of course, the dead tell no tales. India is perhaps the only country where something like this can happen, not once or twice but over one hundred times, unremarked. That nobody is called to account is not surprising when there is not even a demand that this should be done. I stand in line at the bank. Someone in the line before me, drops dead. They remove him. I move ahead one place and thank god for small mercies. What’s remarkable? I am told that I am doing it for the nation. I am a vegetable, fish, eggs, banana seller, standing in line hoping that the bank will not give me a hard time asking me to open an account, PAN card and whatnot. I have enough to worry about. If someone dies in the line, well, what can I do?

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask the people who had no notes to exchange because all their savings were in the bank already. But after November 8, when they wanted to withdraw some cash, they were told that they couldn’t do so. Officially there was a limit to what they could withdraw. In reality, they couldn’t withdraw anything at all as the bank had no currency notes to give out.

“How long will this last?”
“God knows”, said the banker.
“How can you stop me from withdrawing my own money?”
“I am not stopping you. This is the instruction we have received.”
“What can I do?”
“God knows”, said the banker.
I go to the grocery store with my new colorful Rs. 2000 note. I need groceries worth Rs. 500.
“No!” said the grocery store owner, “You need groceries worth Rs. 2000; you just don’t realize that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t have any change to give you. No notes. So, take your change in cabbages or eggs. Just keep and eat them.”
“How long will this last?”
“God knows”, said the grocer.
I can report more such conversations but won’t. I think this illustrates and all of you will recall your own experiences which match mine. That is why there’s a shortage of atheists in India. You really need to believe in God.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask those who till the land, labor from dawn to dusk on construction sites to feed their families, who sell food, provide services and add real value to people’s lives. Ask the Istiriwala (mobile clothes ironing person), the Doodhwala (milk vendor), the Bayi (maid) who works in our homes, the Sabjiwala (vegetable seller), the Machiwala (fish seller); I can go on but won’t. Not one of them had a bank account. Not one of them had a PAN card. Not one of them paid Income Tax. Every single one of them had a family to feed. Every single one of them had some savings put aside for a so-called ‘rainy’ day. Every single one of them suffered for no reason except that in our Feudal-Democracy (my coinage, please give credit if you use this term), it was proclaimed without warning that his savings were illegal until proven legal. He was guilty until proven innocent.

One good thing that happened because of this demonetization which I am very pleased about. It was proven beyond all doubt that there is no corruption in India. After all, did you hear a single story of a policeman, income tax official, customs officer, bureaucrat or politician standing in a bank line trying to legitimize his bribe money? Did you hear of any of them dropping dead from exhaustion or guilt? So, what does it mean? It means that all that we always hear about corruption is nonsense. There is no corruption in India. Nobody takes bribes. All government officers and officials pay tax on all income, upar ki aur andar ki. Like elephant tusks and teeth, khanay kay alag, aur dikhanay kay alag. I will leave this untranslated in the spirit of the line of poetry:

Tum samajh sako tho aansoo
Na samajh sako tho pani
What is our, we the people’s, reaction to all this? Silence or complaining. In public, we are silent. In private, we moan and groan, we blame and crib. In both places, we take no action. And when we are asked why, we reply, ‘What can we do? We can do nothing.’ This warrants another couplet:
Kursi hai, tumhara yeh janaza tho nahin hai
Kuch kar nahin saktay, tho utar kyon nahin jatay? ~ Irteza Nishat

This brings me back to the beginning of my argument which is that if we want good governance in a democracy, we have to participate in it. Serfs have no choice and can complain. Citizens are not serfs, no matter what their elected leaders (called ‘rulers’ in India) may like to think. Citizens must act like citizens and take an interest in governance.

Today we have a situation where the Ruling Party is doing what it considers best for the nation. You can hardly fault them on intention. We have an Opposition which sits silently by and watches while it claims to be against the policies of the Ruling Party. Why? The Opposition is muzzled because everyone is afraid of skeletons in their cupboards being exposed. But what is the solution? Because in the end it is we, the so-called common folk who are paying the price; we and our children. True, we are paying the price of electing corrupt leaders for decades, but that is not a luxury we can afford. Shortsightedness is not an asset when you are driving a car at 70 MPH. Ours is going faster than that. No change without pain. Pain is not something you opt for but accept to escape death. Think cancer treatment. What is happening is worse than that. Cancer only kills you. This will kill you and your future generations. So, what do you want to do? Yes, you and me.

For all change begins with the man in the mirror.

Fact is stranger than fiction

I discovered a new word: Mitron. It means, ‘A large group of unsuspecting people about to be hit by something they will take a long time to recover from.’ Ironically it comes from the Hindi word – Mitron (Mitr = friend. Mitron = of friends). I believe we are in a Mitron moment; the discovery of a word and an experiential understanding of its true meaning.
Demonetization has hit us all but it hit the poor the most. People who live on the knife edge of society which can change overnight from a life of dignity to a life as a beggar on the street. People who have no ‘nest egg’, no safety net, no backup. I recall two things as I write this article. One is an article by my good friend, Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI who wrote about these people on the knife edge; the other is one of my own very early consulting assignments. Let me tell you about that.

In the late 80’s I was hired by The Commonwealth Trust to assess a very interesting economic development program that they had initiated in East Delhi (how many Delhiites even know that East Delhi exists?).  The program was well-intentioned in that it offered interest-free loans to ‘small entrepreneurs’ but with the condition (supposed to be a benefit) that they pair up with corporate executives so that they could teach them a thing or two about business. My first thought, as an IIMA grad was, ‘I can smell an MBA behind this from a mile away’. I say that because it was a typical theoretical approach without a clue about the reality on the ground. Let me explain.

The loans given were to ‘small entrepreneurs’. I keep using apostrophes for this term to underline what ‘small’ meant. Rs. 3000 (which wasn’t all that much even in the 80’s) was the average loan amount. It was given to the Istri-wala (mobile clothes iron man).
This wonderful picture will bring to mind the man (most cases it is his wife who works on this cart) whose services every one of us urban Indians have benefited from. We send down from our fancy apartments, our clothes to him who parks his push-cart in the street outside our compound wall. He irons our shirts and trousers, sarees and skirts; charges a few rupees which we pay in cash and he moves on to the next building or villa. What he earns that day pays for the rent of his ‘house’ (this article is getting too full of apostrophes), school fee for his children (you can’t keep people from aspiring), and food for his family. That money is what keeps him on the knife edge and saves him from falling off and coming to your house with begging bowl in hand. The Commonwealth Trust offered small loans to people like him, the vegetable vendor, the cobbler, the shoeshine guy, the bicycle repairer, the truck tire puncture repairman and similar ‘small entrepreneurs’. The biggest loan had been given to a man who had a printing press with a single machine in a small shop where you had to turn sideways to get past the machine.
As I mentioned the ‘fringe benefit’ according to the initiator of the scheme and The Commonwealth Trust was the partnership between this small entrepreneur and a corporate executive. The corporate executive with his education and presumably greater understanding was supposed to help the small entrepreneur to keep good accounts, pay tax, use technology, build a customer base, survey his market and make growth plans. The formal introductory meeting was arranged in a five star hotel with tea and samosa in an atmosphere of pretended equality between partners and the pairs were made. Three years later, the project came up for evaluation and that is where I came in.
That is also when I discovered East Delhi and that too in July. Those who have lived in Delhi in summer without air conditioning may understand what I went through. The lanes of the area of East Delhi are so narrow that even a Maruti 800 can’t drive through them. I would leave my hired car on the main road and either walk or take a local auto rickshaw. I preferred the latter because the driver knew the people who I wanted to meet and usually told me stories about them later after being a silent listener to the conversation that I had with them. I spent two weeks on this assignment and learned what every Tandoori Chicken knows; what the inside of a tandoor feels like. East Delhi was also one of the places most affected by the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the perpetrators of which still walk free and victims suffer in silence. But then in a country where to break the law with impunity is a status symbol, that’s understandable and expected.
To return to my story, I met these small entrepreneurs, every single one of them. I sat with them in (or near) their businesses. Drank tea with them (which bless our culture, our poor are those who uphold it) which they insisted on paying for and asked them how their business was going and how their partnership was doing. All conversations were in Hindi but I am translating here for your benefit.
Me: Namashkar Jee, how are you. I am Yawar Baig and have come from The Commonwealth Trust you ask you a few questions about your business.
He: Namashkar Sahib. I am repaying my loan on time. I have not defaulted.
Me: (as red in the face as someone with my complexion can get): No, no, no! I didn’t come to ask about repayment. Of course, you are repaying on time. You have a great record. The Commonwealth Trust is very pleased about this. I have only come to ask how things are going with you and with the partnership that was made with Mr. S0-and-so.
He: (relieved smile followed by eyes shifting): All is well Sahib.
Me: Please don’t call me Sahib. My name is Yawar.
He: Jee Achcha Yawar Sahib. (I gave up after trying for some time).
Me: So how is it going? Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (eyes shifting again): All is well Yawar Sahib.
Me: (persevering): Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (realizing that I won’t go away): Sahib, we have not met after that first meeting.
Me: (genuinely shocked): Why? Why didn’t you meet? What happened?
He: (hurriedly): Sahib, it is not his fault. You see I tried to meet him several times. But Sahib, I am a small man (hum chotay aadmi hain. Wo baday aadmi hai). He is a big man. I went to his Kothi (mansion – Hindi for big house – not necessarily a mansion but he calls it Kothi to honor its owner). But his Chowkidaar (security guard) turned me away. He refused to believe me that Sahib had asked me to come. Yawar Sahib, I am a small man but I have izzat (honor, dignity). I didn’t go there to ask for charity. I went there because they said that we were partners and I could talk to him any time. But if the Chowkidaar turns me away, I won’t go again and again.
Me: (at a loss for words): But didn’t he give you his phone number? Couldn’t you call him and tell him to speak to his Chowkidaar?
He: I did Yawar Sahib. He told me to meet him in his office. But there it was worse. So, I gave up.
Me: But this partnership was supposed to help you.  What did you do when you couldn’t even meet your partner?
He: Yawar Sahib, the truth is, how can he help me when he knows nothing of my reality. He lives in a different world from mine. So, different that he can’t even imagine what my world is like. I agreed to the partnership because that was a condition of getting the loan. I never expected that it would work. And it didn’t. I am most grateful to The Commonwealth Trust for the loan. I needed that. The partnership I didn’t need, so it doesn’t matter.
Me: (wondering what I am going to write in my report): What did you do when you needed any advice?
He: I went to my Mamaji (uncle or father in law) and sometimes to my neighbor (essentially his competitor) and asked them. They advised me and I followed their advice.
Me: Your competitor gave you advice about your business which was good for you? Isn’t he your competitor?
He: (shocked at my ignorance): Of course, he gave me good advice. He is my competitor but first he is my brother (from my community, extended family etc). Of course, he gave me good advice. He is easy to reach. We have a relationship, a real relationship, not only business and above all, he understands my reality because he is a part of it.
This conversation was more or less what I had with every one of those in that survey. One common factor with all of them; that their entire business was in cash. After all, when was the last time you paid the Istri-wala or the Sabji-wala or the Bai who comes to clean your home and cook your meal and the many walas our life quality depends on, by cheque? When was the last time he asked you for your credit card to swipe? All their business is in cash and so is the business of all those in the value chain they deal in; those they buy the necessities of their lives from. All cash. Out of their meagre and harsh existence it is the genius Indian woman that they save some money – again cash. They don’t bank it. They buy gold if they can or just keep the cash. It is their saving for an emergency and since the biggest requirement of emergencies is liquidity, they like cash. Sometimes this saving is done over such a long period that it amounts to a good bit; maybe three to five lakhs (3-500, 000). But that is what they slogged and sweated for over decades. Should that be taxed? Especially in a country that has no social security, no emergency services to speak of and no support for such people except what they can get from their savings and families.
Indeed, they don’t declare this income to the Government. They don’t bank it because every trip to the bank means a loss of business. They need cash and in cash they trust. It is not for nothing that even in bigger establishments you may have seen the sign, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST. REST STRICTLY CASH.’ That is not a statement of religiosity but of hard reality. Does that make them ‘black marketeers’ and thieves? Indeed, these small businessmen and women don’t pay tax but they contribute to the economy both directly by buying and indirectly by providing services. As I mentioned earlier, they add value and quality to our lives and take away the drudgery of daily chores. It is all these people who are the true backbone of the economy. It is they who spread goodness all around them because of the food chain that they are part of and support. It is they who create neighborhoods which are dynamic and alive though overall poor. Unlike dead American inner cities which are home to the poor in Western societies. And these, our poor, our small entrepreneurs, our salt of the earth man and woman who are the hardest hit in this Mitron moment of demonetization.
I was reminded of all this when I read this interview:
I was reminded about this because the demonetization move has once again underlined the fact about our society that decisions that affect millions are taken by those who are as foreign to them as Martians would be to us Earthlings. People who either don’t understand their reality or couldn’t care less. People who don’t even think of them as a ‘vote bank’, because momentarily, votes can be bought or swayed by tearful oratory. And that is enough to get elected and then it doesn’t matter what those who voted think or feel; survive or perish. People, who even if they knew that reality once upon a time, have chosen to forget it and take pride in associating with the high and mighty rather than with those who they were born among and grew up with. But then you can’t fault a person for his aspirations, can you? As long as rhetotrick (my coinage – tricky rhetoric) is in plentiful supply, facts don’t matter. What happened doesn’t matter as long as its creators can give it a positive spin. Human life is not cheap. It is priceless. Has no price. Is free. (not the usual inference of the word, ‘priceless’, I realise).
One economist friend said to me, “The economy will take a decade to recover from this move.” I said to him, ‘Economies don’t ‘recover’ in a decade. They are replaced because all those who participated in the old economy have perished.’ ‘Recover’ is a term that economists use on their neat charts. The reality is neither neat nor painless. India’s economy ‘recovered’ after the Bengal Famine. But 2 million people perished. Economists don’t care about that. Not that they are heartless. It is just that they don’t have the language to express the monetary value of sweat and tears; of life and death. Numbers are used so much because they are neat and help us to remain out of touch with reality. When our reality, that which we have jointly created, is so painful, nasty and brutal, we need tools to keep it at bay. Numbers are one. Entertainment is another. We need to forget reality. The alternative is to change reality so that we don’t need to forget it, can enjoy it and benefit from it. But that takes too much trouble. It is easier to forget.

I mention this here because in this race to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision or at best amused smiles if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact.

For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.