The Balmikis of Pakistan

….In Balochistan….an idol revered by Hindus and Muslims….Umerkot, birthplace of Akbar….“confluence” of Hindu god Shiva and an
important part of Mughal history……a stone shiv-ling, believed to be present during a
visit by Humayun, father of Akbar……shrine attracts many Muslims for
“curative purposes or to ask for a child”….

Reema Abbasi was born in Pakistan, went to school in England, college in Karachi, is a “spiritual Muslim” and “who has aspects of most religions in her home, such as an idol of Sai Baba, the cross and quranic verses” and who has now compiled a book on Hindu temples in Pakistan.

More than the temples, what is of interest is the life and precarious times of the Balmiki community (Dalits) who themselves seem to be highly spiritual (as in they appreciate all religions).
Reema Abbasi, the book’s author, traveled the country to write this
narrative of about 40 old religious sites, including Hindu temples in
the jagged terrain of the western state of Balochistan. She also visited
the Thar desert and the Indus River valley in the state of Sindh, as
well as Karachi, Lahore, Punjab and dangerous stretches of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, along the border with Afghanistan.

Born a Pakistani in the Netherlands, she went to school in England,
college in Karachi, and then worked as a journalist. A self-described
“spiritual Muslim,” she has aspects of most religions in her home, such
as an idol of Sai Baba, the cross and quranic verses.

“In the last 10 years, I have been focusing on socio-political
[reporting] and then the whole hardliner issues here, and sectarianism.
Not in the cities, but in upper north where there are pockets of
extremists and terrorists. Given that climate, the kind of issues that
were arising at the time and what I was writing about – I think that was
the part towards this [book].

“[The shrines] were spellbinding. For me some of the structures were
imbued with so much energy. … These places continue to bring so much
together and serve multiple functions in their own capacity — their
shelters, their inscriptions, their half-way houses for travelers, they
provide relief to homeless. So in their very being they are doing so
much. I think that’s the beauty of all ancient faith. Mosques do that,
churches do that. 

That’s where all ancient faiths merge. It is very
important to celebrate that kind of unity in diversity, rather than deny
it,” Abbasi told India Insight in a telephone interview from Karachi.

“This book concentrates on Pakistan’s fraying social order and the
sad prospect of it bringing about its own destruction by documenting
Hindu places of worship, major festivals, prominent orders of
priesthood…,” she writes in the book’s introduction, which is dotted
with Urdu poetry on faith and identity.

Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and Shi’ite Muslims make up about less than 5 percent of the nation’s 180 million people. In a recent report, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom said the government failed to adequately protect minorities.

Parts of the book mirror this anxiety, like a visit to the Balmiki
Temple located in a nondescript street in Lahore, the capital of Punjab.

Hindus, Christians and Sikhs congregate at the shrine of Balmiki,
deity of the untouchable caste. The devotees come together in the belief
that renders their respective religions “irrelevant to humanity”.
Muslims also join them on important festivals. A cross is also seen
inside the temple.

The utopia turns out to be a facade when Abbasi writes that the Hindu
residents are expected to adopt Muslim names or Christianity to “avoid
upheaval”. Followers of Balmiki, the author adds, consume chicken and
fish to avoid being “conspicuous”.

In her travels, Abbasi stopped at shrines that faced backlash from
Muslims because of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India by a
Hindu group.

She contrasts stories of desecration of temples, whether due to a
backlash or land disputes or commercial gain, with visits to shrines
that represent a fusion of faiths, untouched by social disturbances.

One of the reasons why minorities are worried is because of Pakistani blasphemy laws. The Ahmadis, for example, are not recognized as Muslims in Pakistan. The Supreme Court has ordered the government to look after the minorities, and its human rights panel says conditions are worsening.

In far-flung Balochistan rests an idol that is revered by Hindus and Muslims. Umerkot, the birthplace of Emperor Akbar,
becomes the symbol of a “confluence” of Hindu god Shiva and an
important part of Mughal history. In the central chamber of a colorful
temple is pictured a stone shiv-ling, believed to be present during a
visit by Humayun, father of Akbar. The shrine attracts many Muslims for
“curative purposes or to ask for a child”.

And close to Umerkot
is the only Ram temple in Pakistan, situated in a Hindu-majority town.
In a Sunni Muslim town, more than 200 km from Karachi, Dalit Hindus and
Muslims worship a Hindu saint who embraced Islam to embody Hindu-Muslim

Such instances of the fluidity and opaqueness of faith abound in this
book. Particularly striking is the image of Muslim men in skull caps
worshipping Kali inside the Kalka cave in Sindh, which attracts Hindus,
Muslims and Christians from all over the subcontinent.






No Mask, “Pure RSS”

…..receive calls from Modi when chief minister, but only once to complain….My paper had done a story…in many parts of Gujarat Muslims denied benefits……Modi said story was wrong…. “You criticize me over Hindutva, that is fair…But
I object if you say I am denying poor Muslims a
hundred rupees a day”…….Subsequent checks showed….incorrect facts….we readily made amends……

We admire Shekhar Gupta as a honest-to-God journalist (one of the few ones we have) who bows before no God. Another brave-heart is P Sainath of the Hindu.

What we see is the Modi doctrine taking shape in which the Hindutva forces carry a big stick and talk softly. For many reasons this may be enough for a significant number of minorities to start voting for the BJP.

After all there is no particular reason why a Christian, forward-caste (FC) would vote for a Congress party that will primarily depend on the Muslim and Other Backward Caste (OBC) vote to win. Indeed the #1 Sikh party and the #2 Dalit-Buddhist party is aligned with the so-called Manu-vadi alliance.

The Deputy Chief Minister of the BJP led ruling coalition in Goa, Francis D’Souza, a Catholic, has recently created waves by stating the following: “India is a Hindu country. It is Hindustan. All Indians in Hindustan are
Hindus, including I – I am a Christian Hindu”

Normally it is understood that such a polarization strategy will primarily target muslims (and all other minorities are fine with that approach). But muslims can read the writing on the wall as well as anybody. From the polls (India Today) and field reports (The Hindu in Kerala and West Bengal), the arrow clearly points to this direction.

The goal is to divide muslims into two categories: (1) Hindustan first-ers and (2) Ummah first-ers. If this plays well politically, it will be recognized as the RSS version of the two-nation theory where a muslim is subjected to a loyalty test but not Hindus.
Answer this one honestly. In all your life, have you seen anybody
else, or specifically, any public figure who resembles his own mask as
much as Narendra Modi

You could possibly argue that computers have rendered mask-making
more accurate. Yet, we have never seen a real face and mask so like
each other as with Modi. Sometimes you’d even wonder which one is more
real. But why are we making such a big deal of it?

The mask has
been an essential metaphor in BJP politics ever since rebellious but
erudite K.N. Govindacharya mocked Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a mere
mukhauta (Hindi for mask) of the BJP while the real face was entirely
different. It was a diabolically clever description. 

What Govindacharya
meant was, RSS (and the Hindu Right it represented) was the real face of
the BJP. The liberal, secular, inclusive and middle-of-the-road
Vajpayee was just a mask to conceal it. Vajpayee was furious, but
admitted in a conversation with me a couple of months after losing power
in 2004 that this was indeed the reality. That what he represented was
not the real BJP and that Govindacharya was right.

Just about
three months since his ascent to power, you know that there is no such
confusion in Modi’s case. The mask and the real face are exactly the
same, physically as well as metaphorically. To that extent, Modi is
genuinely a leader of the nationalist Hindu Right and his government
India’s first genuinely right-of-centre one, socially and politically
for sure, and we wait to see if it turns out decisively that way
economically as well. 

Every major action and utterance of his, from
discontinuing the routine of 7 RCR iftars to his Independence Day speech
and now cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan,
underlines the same point. Americans would put it as, the man you see is
the man you get. In India, in BJP’s current context, it is, the man you
see on the mask is the man you get as your leader.

is a completely new phenomenon in Indian politics where
hypocrisy-signal left, turn right has been the norm. Barring some phases
of hard socialism, as under Indira Gandhi post-1969, all our leaders
have been a bit of this and a bit of that, pretending to be of the left,
but never quite true to it. That’s why India has always had a mixed
everything, from economy to social and foreign policies. 

Even economic
reformers like P.V. Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee have had to hide their
actions behind socialist camouflage, and L.K. Advani famously paid
homage to Mohammed Ali Jinnah at his mausoleum. In short, the mask has
been an essential equipment in the trick-box of India’s political class.
This is where Modi, and his BJP, I dare say, are different, and this
will be the hallmark of his tenure in power.

Unlike other
ideological leaders who, once they rise to the top, make course
corrections, usually moving to the centre, Modi has given every
indication that he will, as prime minister, be no different from the way
he was as chief minister of Gujarat. This reflects in the generally
underwhelming talent base of his Cabinet, reliance on trusted civil
servants, shutting out of the media and centralisation of power. He will
sound inclusive-as he has done in Gujarat consistently since his second
victory in December 2007-but will not reach out to any particular
community, whatever its sense of insecurity or hurt. 

And on issues of
national security, his actions as prime minister will be consistent with
his fundamental views and instincts. That’s why he would take no time
cancelling talks because Pakistan’s high commissioner meets Hurriyat
leaders while every other prime minister, including Vajpayee, had
ignored this as a mere side-show or tamasha. 

Read the text of his
Independence Day speech carefully. It is inclusive, conciliatory,
forward-looking and modern. But it is also pure RSS. Modi spoke as an
RSS pracharak would have, stressing family values, morality,
cleanliness, discipline and patriotism. But his tone was far from
threatening or overbearing, the choice of words careful, but with no
attempt to specially reach out to any particular section, minorities,
Dalits, OBCs, tribals. 

In the RSS worldview, all Indians are the same,
in fact in the purest ideological interpretation, as recently underlined
by Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, they are all integral to a common
identity of Hindutva, although Modi has never gone that far since he
rose to public office for the first time in 2001.

And chances are,
he won’t. Because, like every other follower of a sharp ideology, he
has indeed made a course correction, but he did so much before he rose
to prime ministership. He did so post-2007. His discourse became so
benignly inclusive that in the 2014 campaign you couldn’t find one line
you could object to on grounds of communal insinuation or even lack of
civility. But there was never a special approach to Muslims, and that is
how he is going to be as prime minister. His Independence Day speech
highlighted the same Modi.

What are the other clues from his past
and recent conduct that give you an insight into his mind? He ruled his
state for 13 years without a Muslim legislator in his party. Yet he did
not allow VHP and RSS a free run in the one state they would have hoped
to be able to call their own. You ask Pravin Togadia who is the one
fellow Indian whose guts he hates, and if he is honest, the answer will
be Modi. Alright, no VHP people were put away in encounters, but some
had cases of sedition filed against them. How he subdued these groups
was in contrast, for example, with the pampering they enjoyed in
neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. 

As time passes, expect more of the same
from him in Delhi as well. He may not have responded or contradicted
publicly to some of the recent utterances from RSS, etc, but you have
seen the static levels go down. Of course, disciplining the
sarsanghchalak is a different challenge altogether. Modi’s method,
therefore, is likely to be more in the nature of very soft Hindutva, and
very pronounced nationalism. 

You will be surprised if he allows his
Government to be distracted by the Ram temple, a common personal law or
the repeal of Article 370. Modi believes in employing his political
capital to further his ideology, but he will do this very, very
cautiously. As the India Today Group-Hansa Research Mood of the Nation
opinion poll shows, this seems to be already working: a surprisingly
large number of Muslims now say they will vote for Modi.

These are
early days yet, but could it be that Modi is now refining an innovative
ideology of the Right? Very nationalist, very moralistic,
self-righteous, uncompromising, yet non-threatening to minorities. He
and his Government show many other traits of the instinctive Right:
their penchant for giganticism, for example. Sardar Patel’s statue has
to be two and a half times the Statue of Liberty, and a country where
top speeds of passenger trains have remained the same in decades has to
suddenly leapfrog to bullet trains. More such traits will surface as the
months pass. India’s first genuinely right-wing government will unfold
into a fascinating political story.

Postscript: I did receive a few
calls from Modi when he was chief minister, but only once to complain.
My paper then had done a story saying that in many parts of Gujarat poor
Muslims were being denied NREGA benefits. Modi said the story was
factually wrong. “You criticise or question me over Hindutva, that is
fair and it is your right, because I believe in Hindutva,” he said. “But
I strongly object if you say that I am denying my poor Muslims a
hundred rupees a day.” I said I would have the reporter recheck his
facts. “What you people in Delhi will not understand is, in my Gujarat,
my Muslims are not so poor that they will work for NREGA. They are
mostly doing very well and will not waste their time in unproductive
work,” he said. Subsequent checks indeed showed the story to be based on
incorrect facts and surmises, and we readily made amends.

retrospect now, does this tell us something about Modi’s mind as it has
evolved through his long tenure as chief minister? That he will not
specially reach out to the minorities, but would so strongly resent it
if accused of being unfair to them as a ruler. We may, in fact, be
dealing with a leader who does believe in rajdharma, but would define it
for himself in his very own way.






The price of (right to) protest

Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district of (North) West Bengal is a beautiful place in a narrow tract of land sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh. It is not far from the serene Jaldhaka river as it flows down from the Himalayas into the Dooars (plains). But all the serenity and natural beauty cannot hide the ugliness of mankind.


Backstory: The victim and her family are tribal people who have been reliable voters for the Communists (CPI-M), currently in opposition. The power-brokers are aligned with the ruling Trinamool Congress led by a woman: Mamata Banerjee. The thugs apparently want to grab the land of the tribals, hence the kangaroo court. The man was asked to lick his own spit off the ground. His teenage daughter desperately tried to save him from being humiliated (and beaten up). In retaliation, she was raped and murdered in broad daylight.

Political parties in India of all colors (affiliations) are always ready to shed copious crocodile tears on behalf of the poor. They each claim that they represent the sarbo-hara (the people who have nothing). In reality it is the poor who have to use all the tools that democracy gives them in order to claim for and fight for their rights. This can be the right of education for poor children in posh city schools (the law mandates up to 25%), the right to have a bank account (under the Jan Dhan Yojana instituted by the Govt)….and even the right to have a life with dignity.

India (and Indians) will have to learn how to ensure a life with dignity for all brothers and sisters. Part of that surely is the right to protest when the heavy boot of the local thug lands on your shoulder. Specifically, a daughter must be able to protect her father from public humiliation without getting killed.

The only reason the tribals of Dhupguri (not far from Naxal-bari) do not form a gang of their own and burn down the homes of the well-off (with the people inside) is that they are basically kind people. Even when buried under poverty and stress, they will not behead you and upload the video on the net. The elites should be grateful for this but not take things for granted. Else, the day of reckoning will surely come and the price in blood will be paid with full interest.
(September 03- Wednesday)
The naked body of a girl, who tried to save her father from being beaten
up at a village kangaroo court for failing to pay for a rented tractor,
was found near the railway tracks at Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district,
police said today.

The ‘Salishi Sabha’ (self-appointed village court) was convened at
Dhupguri on Monday night and the girl’s body was found yesterday,
Jalpaiguri Additional Superintendent of Police James Kujur said.

After identifying the body, the victim’s father lodged an FIR against 13
persons at the Dhupguri Police Station for “rape, murder and
kidnapping” of his daughter.

Trouble began at the ‘Sabha’ when the farmer’s request for some more
time to make the payment was turned down, the police said adding local
Trinamool Congress councillor Namita Roy and her husband were present at
the meeting.

The girl rushed out of her house pleading with the villagers not to beat
her father, but a person known to her took her away from the meeting
and she went missing since then, the police said.

The councillor was not available for comment.

District TMC president Sourav Chakrabarty, however, said the police were
investigating the incident and there was no need to give “political
color” to it.

Jalpaiguri Superintendent of Police Kunal Agarwal and the ASP rushed to the spot last night. Kujur said the Government Railway Police would probe the matter as the girl’s body was found near the rail tracks.

Two persons were initially detained in this connection, but were released later. A juvenile, aged about 14-15 years, was apprehended today in connection
with the incident, Superintendent Railway Police (Siliguri) Debashis
Sarkar said.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Governor K N Tripathi assured a Left Front
Parliamentary team during the day that he would seek a report from the
state government on the incident.
“We have expressed our concern about the incident and the Governor has
said he will seek a report from the state administration on the
incident,” CPI(M) MLA Anisur Rehman said.
The Left Parliamentary team, which for the first time met Tripathi after
he assumed office, also expressed deep anguish over the “lawless”
situation in the state.
A delegation of the LF women’s wing also met Tripathi and complained
about rising incidents of rape and molestation in the state.
SFI and DYFI, the student and youth wings of the CPI(M), observed a
students strike and ‘Black Day’ in Dhupguri block today demanding
punishment of the culprits and also put up road blockades on NH 31.

BJP activists had staged a demonstration in front of the Dhupguri Police Station yesterday, the police said.






Gandhi mukt (free) Congress

….Of course there will be chaos…..Blood will be shed….real
change, does not come easily and those in power never give it up easy…..And the Gandhis, you must remember, have enormous power, influence,
resources at their command….. Modi has only 31%
of the 66% who came out to vote…..This means barely a fifth of the nation
behind him….So the battle will not be easy…..

The Grand Old Party of India needs a thorough house-cleaning before the youth agree to vote for it (the vote for BJP was actually a vote for Modi as the “decider”). And the best way for this to happen is that the Gandhis decide to (voluntary) step down and arrange for a democratic vote for creation of a “privy council” which will rule with the express consent of the party workers.

Such a Gandhi-free Congress will be powered by the Muslim-Dalit vote while the BJP under Modi will be the natural choice of Forward Caste (FC) – Other Backward Caste (OBC) – Scheduled Tribe (ST) combine. Ultimately, driven by pure electoral logic, India will be ruled by OBCs, as has been the case for most of its history (however this does not mean that OBCs will be dominant everywhere).

It is difficult for us to vote for either party in present form, we would like to support (ideally) a center-left, secular organization. If the Aam Admi Party becomes a nationwide political force, a bit like an United Party of NGOs, then this would be close to such an ideal. But at the very least we would welcome a Gandhi-free Congress, which in our opinion will be able to take up its proper role as a natural ruling party (in some areas) and a loyal opposition (in other areas).

In the long run there are only two acceptable paths of change from the present, unsatisfactory, First Past The Post (FPTP) model: India may decide to switch to a two-party + presidential system (PS) following the United States. Alternatively, India can opt for a proportional representation (PR, with 5% threshold vote) as in Germany. We prefer the PR over the PS model, however both models will require (and enforce) umbrella alliances, similar to the NDA and UPA set-ups that we have now.
Manmohan Singh lost because of the Gandhis. Narendra Modi won because
of the Gandhis. Can we finally get a politics without the Gandhis

One of the first things everyone agrees upon in private and denies in
public is that the Congress party has reached such a sorry state
because of the Gandhis who currently run it. Even Congressmen now admit
to it. But as they fear the wrath of the dynasty, they avoid saying it
in the open. It remains but an unspoken verity.

Very early in her life, Indira Gandhi learnt how to grab power and
consolidate it. She did it with amazing dexterity and ease to begin with
but then, as the years went by, her insecurities made her more and more
ruthless. The Emergency brought it all out finally. In her son Sanjay
she got the perfect fall guy though. He was seen as the architect of her
fall. But anyone who knew her will tell you that the Emergency was a
natural outcome of her own true instincts.

Her son Rajiv and his wife were both schooled in politics under her
tutelage. So it’s not exactly surprising that they share the same
insecurities. Rajiv concealed it with his charm and wit but it 

came out in the open.

From the way he berated an incumbent chief minister who had come all
the way to the airport receive him, then just a party general secretary,
to being churlish when crossed by Prabhakaran, Rajiv was exactly the
kind of prime minister India so wanted and yet was so disappointed with.
You have to read Natwar Singh’s autobiography to figure how Rajiv
single handed got India into such an awful mess in Sri Lanka, and Natwar
(you must remember) was as ardent a Rajiv fan as you will get. Till
ofcourse Sonia managed to rile him.

Natwar’s book tells you as much about the Camelot years as it does
about Sonia and the fall of the Congress. It is the first stone. More
will be cast I am sure. By others.

Till now all the fault lines in the party were blamed on others.
Manmohan Singh got the brunt of it. He was for Sonia what Sanjay was to
Indira. The perfect fall guy, the man everyone came to hate. It was a
deliberate strategy to show him up as a wimp who ran away from the
battlefield. As the man who let the party down. 

Short of calling him
corrupt, a charge that few would buy into, every other insult was
directed at him through a pliant party apparatus and a submissive media
looking for someone to target in a season of endless scams where
billions were purloined. It was legerdemain of the highest order and
poor ….

Manmohan never looked as if he could preside over such an enormous

Since the media was too scared to take on the Gandhis, they chose the
safer option. They targeted Manmohan and, like a fool, he allowed
himself to be led to slaughter. From there began the rise of Narendra
Modi, the man the nation chose to throw the Gandhis out. 

Modi was
charismatic. He was seen as powerful, decisive. So the electorate
decided he could do the job the media and the Congress party had failed
to. From that choice came Modi’s real power. Not from the BJP or the
RSS. Not from Hindutva. Modi was the man, India decided, who could
rescue our politics from the grip of the Gandhis. He had an equal
reputation for ruthlessness. It was steel for steel. Modi versus the

The BJP and Congress were only observers.

Now that the battle’s over, and a hundred days too, the nation waits
with bated breath to see how Modi will take on the Gandhis. Neither side
is showing its hand. Both are playing blind. Manmohan has retreated
into oblivion. The Congress is rudderless. The Gandhis only take credit
for victory. Not responsibility for defeat, whatever the clichés they
may resort to.

But this time there’s opportunity. A real opportunity for change.
Narendra Modi may be the pretext. But the opportunity lies in taking the
party that once fought for India’s freedom and give it a spine to fight
for its own freedom. Freedom from the Gandhis.

Of course there will be chaos. Blood will be shed. Change, real
change, does not come easily and those in power never give it up easiy.
And the Gandhis, you must remember, have enormous power, influence,
resources at their command. Modi has only 31% of the vote. That is, 31%
of the 66% who came out to vote. This means barely a fifth of the nation
behind him. So the battle will not be easy. He’s smart enough to know

That’s why he is so cautious. He’s taking one step at a time. And he
has left the Gandhis alone for now. But he knows that sooner or later he
has to deal with them if he wants to consolidate his power. They can’t
be ignored. Or maybe he’s hoping that they will follow a scorched earth
policy and destroy the Congress before riding into the sunset. That
could also suit him.

But that will mean the end of a great party and the death of a real
Opposition. It will be a tragedy for Indian politics and hurt Modi as
well. For who will then deal with the lunatic fringe in his own party?
India needs the Congress. But it needs it without the Gandhis. Can that






“The Prophet would be anonymous”

….“Everything around the Prophet’s mosque
has already been destroyed….. It is surrounded by bulldozers…..Once
they’ve removed everything they can move towards the mosque….. The imam is
likely to say there is a need to expand the mosque and do it that way,
while the world’s eyes are on Iraq and Syria….. The Prophet Mohamed’s
grave is venerated by the mainstream Sunni, who would never do it. It is
just as important for the Shia too, who venerate the Prophet’s
daughter, Fatima…..

This may create a major crisis on top of everything else that is going on in the middle-east.

The controversial proposals are part of a consultation document by a
leading Saudi academic which has been circulated among the supervisors
of al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque in Medina, where the remains of the
Prophet are housed under the Green Dome, visited by millions of pilgrims
and venerated as Islam’s second-holiest site. The formal custodian of
the mosque is Saudi Arabia’s ageing monarch King Abdullah.

plans, brought to light by another Saudi academic who has exposed and
criticised the destruction of holy places and artefacts in Mecca – the
holiest site in the Muslim world – call for the destruction of chambers
around the Prophet’s grave which are particularly venerated by Shia

61-page document also calls for the removal of Mohamed’s remains to the
nearby al-Baqi cemetery, where they would be interred anonymously. There
is no suggestion that any decision has been taken to act upon the
plans. The Saudi government has in the past insisted that it treats any
changes to Islam’s holiest sites with “the utmost seriousness”.

such is the importance of the mosque to both Sunni and Shia Muslims
that Dr Irfan al-Alawi warned that any attempt to carry out the work
could spark unrest. It also runs the risk of inflaming sectarian
tensions between the two branches of Islam, already running perilously
high due to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Hardline Saudi
clerics have long preached that the country’s strict Wahhabi
interpretation of Islam – an offshoot of the Sunni tradition – prohibits
the worship of any object or “saint”, a practice considered “shirq” or

Dr Alawi, director of the Islamic Heritage Research
Foundation, told The Independent: “People visit the chambers, which are
the rooms where the Prophet’s family lived, and turn towards the burial
chamber to pray.

“Now they want to prevent pilgrims from attending
and venerating the tomb because they believe this is shirq, or
idolatry. But the only way they can stop people visiting the Prophet is
to get him out and into the cemetery.”

For centuries Muslim
pilgrims have made their way to Mecca in order to visit the Kaaba – a
black granite cubed building said to be built by Abraham, around which
al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, is built, and towards which
every Muslim faces when they pray.

This pilgrimage, or hajj, is a religious duty that has to be carried out at least once in a lifetime.
Many go on to make their way to the nearby city of Medina to pay their respects at the Prophet’s tomb.

mosque around the tomb has been expanded by generations of Arabian
rulers, particularly the Ottomans. It includes hand-painted calligraphy
documenting details of the Prophet’s life and his family. Dr Alawi said
the plans also call for these to be destroyed as well as the Green Dome
which covers the Prophet’s tomb.

The Prophet is venerated by both
branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia. The strict Wahhabi sect is a branch
of the Sunni faith, however, and removing the Prophet could further
inflame tensions between the two groups .

The current  crisis in
Iraq has been blamed on the Shia former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s
sectarianism, which alienated the Sunni, leading to the uprising. Isis,
also known as Islamic State, which holds swathes of Iraq and Syria, and
which murdered the American journalist James Foley, is a Sunni

Mainstream Sunni Muslims would be just as aghast at any desecration of the tomb as the Shia, Dr Alawi said. The
Independent has previously revealed how the multibillion-pound
expansion of the Grand Mosque has, according to the Washington-based
Gulf Institute, led to the destruction of up to 95 per cent of Mecca’s
millennium-old buildings. They have been replaced with luxury  hotels,
apartments and  shopping malls.

King Abdullah has appointed the
prominent Wahhabi cleric and imam of the Grand Mosque, Abdul Rahman
al-Sudais, to oversee the expansion project – necessary to cope with the
huge number of pilgrims who now visit each year.

Dr Alawi says
the consultation document for the al-Nabawi mosque in Medina, by the
leading Saudi academic Dr Ali bin Abdulaziz al-Shabal of Imam Muhammad
ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, has been circulated to the
Committee of the Presidency of the Two Mosques.

Several pages of
the consultation document have just been published in the presidency’s
journal. They call for the destruction of the rooms surrounding the tomb
– used by the Prophet’s wives and daughters, and venerated by the Shia
because of their association with his youngest daughter, Fatima.

document also calls for the Green Dome, which covers the tomb and these
living quarters, to be removed, and the ultimate removal of the
Prophet’s body to a nearby cemetery.

The al-Baqi cemetery already
contains the bodies of many of the Prophet’s family, including his
father who was removed there in the 1970s, Dr Alawi said. In 1924 all
the grave markers were removed, so pilgrims would not know who was
buried there, and so be unable to pray to them.

“The Prophet would
be anonymous,” Dr  Alawi added. “Everything around the Prophet’s mosque
has already been destroyed. It is surrounded by bulldozers. Once
they’ve removed everything they can move towards the mosque. The imam is
likely to say there is a need to expand the mosque and do it that way,
while the world’s eyes are on Iraq and Syria. The Prophet Mohamed’s
grave is venerated by the mainstream Sunni, who would never do it. It is
just as important for the Shia too, who venerate the Prophet’s
daughter, Fatima.

“I’m sure there will be shock across the Muslim world at these revelations. It will cause outrage.”

Independent was unable to contact the Saudi Arabian embassy, but it
said in a statement last year: “The development of the Holy Mosque of
Makkah al-Mukarramah [Mecca] is an extremely important subject and one
which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as custodian of the
two holy mosques, takes with the utmost seriousness. This role is at the
heart of the principles upon which Saudi Arabia is founded.”






Jihadi Death Row (no end in sight)

We fear this will become a frequent event. First there was James Foley, now it is Steven Sotloff. Next on the death row, a Briton’s life hangs in the balance.


Setting aside the personal tragedies as well as the justified fear about wide-spread Islamophobia it seems the need of the hour is to understand and neutralize the jihadist ideology which is entrapping thousands of youngsters from the West (and elsewhere).

It is our opinion that the governments and the civil society have not really made an effort to understand why these people are so angry and how they are so easily brainwashed. A vaccine is needed…and fast.

The only way out (it seems to us) is to somehow make it clear the innate superiority of Western ideas, which has allowed the “Christian” West to dominate over the rest. It is critical that the young angry men be counseled properly (by Western trained imams if required) before the polarization levels become too stark. Our understanding of history is that there was no golden age in the past, human beings never had it so good like the present.

Here’s a summary of the latest developments:

  • Islamic
    militants released a video purporting to show the beheading of a second
    captive American journalist, Steven Sotloff, which ended with a
    chilling warning that a British hostage would be the next to die.

    In the video, entitled A Second Message to America, a masked man is
    shown carrying out the decapitation of Sotloff, whose life had earlier
    been threatened in a film that showed the murder of another American
    journalist, James Foley.
  • David
    Cameron condemned the apparent murder as a “despicable act” as he
    prepared to chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee.
    video of Sotloff’s killing ended with footage of the British hostage in
    the same style of orange jumpsuit that both Foley and Sotloff were
    wearing, suggesting he was their next intended victim. His family has
    asked the media not to identify him.
  • Barack Obama has ordered 350 more troops into Iraq, hours after the release of the latest beheading video.
    The new deployment was intended not for “a combat role”, the White
    House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement, but to augment
    security at the Baghdad embassy and associated “support facilities”.
  • An
    investigation is under way to establish whether the man dubbed Jihadi
    John is behind the second murder after a British-accented man was shown
    in the video depicting the killing Sotloff.
    sources said that although there were similarities between the voice on
    the film that emerged on Tuesday and that depicting the murder of James
    Foley a fortnight ago, the figure is largely hidden in black clothing.
  • Journalists have paid tribute to Sotloff who reported on some of the most unstable and dangerous locations in the world. “Steven embodies what it takes to report from combat zones,” said Bill Roggio, managing editor of the Long War Journal.
  • Sotloff’s murder and the threat to another hostage dominates the British press. The Daily Mail argues the government is failing to do enough to make Britain feel safe. 






Pakistan’s Contain(er)ed Revolution

When real revolutions happen in significant countries – as in Iran in 1978 or Egypt in 2011 – millions of people pour out on the streets throughout the country and bring everything to a standstill. In the current “revolution” underway in Pakistan, activity is limited largely to a couple of square kilometers in Islamabad and a few specific locations in other cities. The number of people involved at any one location has never exceeded about 40,000 (combined), and currently is far, far lower. And even among these, many come in just for the music concerts. The revolutionary leaders sit in their airconditioned, bullet-proof containers, delivering periodic sermons consisting of vague generalities spiced up with colorful or apocalyptic language. The followers, ragged after weeks of revolutionizing, are roused to dramatic but ultimately ineffectual frenzies. Tear gas fills the air; rubber bullets fly; people get beaten and beat up policemen. TV anchors and analysts cheer or excoriate this or that side. In the rest of the country, life continues as normal, albeit with an undercurrent of tension.

What this shows above all is that the parties leading the revolution do not, in fact, have the mass support they had claimed. In the case of PTI, it may have convinced tens of millions to vote for it, but of these only a very small fraction feel strongly enough to heed its revolutionary call. That’s not how real grass-roots revolutions work. It is the classic sign of an “astro-turf revolution”.

There is no doubt that Imran Khan has the personal support of millions of Pakistanis, but it is now clear that these come mainly from a few highly influential but numerically small segments of society: The educated urban middle and upper-middle class, expatriate Pakistani professionals, and perhaps some segments of the armed forces. The first two – especially their youthful cohorts – are very vocal and able to generate large amounts of cash, but numerically they are no match for the silent, mostly lower and lower-middle class, often rural followers of other major parties such as the PML-N or the PPP. Nor are they as committed to their leader in deed (as opposed to invective) as MQM followers are to theirs.

It is true that almost all successful revolutions are driven by the social segments where Imran Khan has his greatest following, but there are two important differences. First, in most of those cases, these segments form a larger proportion of the country than in Pakistan. In countries like Iran and Egypt, the populations as a whole are much more educated and, in Egypt’s case, much more urban. Second, the remaining segments of society in these countries are not as much in thrall to reactionary forces as in Pakistan, where vast majorities of them vote based on feudal allegiance, religious affiliation, kinship ties, and personal loyalty to politicians. These large population groups are thus largely immune to the rationally-grounded message presented by leaders such as Imran Khan (in his case, very imperfectly). Revolution will occur in Pakistan only when a leader connects with almost the entire population at such a visceral level that people willingly give up their allegiances of generations upon generations to follow the new leader. In a religious, conservative society like Pakistan, the only basis for such a movement is religion, which is also the most dangerous – especially given the religious strains lately ascendant in Pakistan. It is worth remembering that even in Iran and Egypt, the revolutions brought forth rulers who were religious fundamentalists, not liberal democrats. And in Egypt this led directly to the failure of the revolution.

 Thus, it would perhaps be just as well if the Great Pakistani Revolution is postponed until a time when religious fervor has been diluted by modernity, or until people are so fed up that they are willing to look at radical new alternatives rather than seeing solutions from the distant past. Meanwhile, we still have “democracy” – or at least something that looks like it – if we can keep it.


Pakistan following “Bangladesh model”

…..According to the PTI president Hashmi, a script for such a move was laid out
well in advance.
Imran laid out the plan, I said to Imran, ‘Khan sahab what are you
said, ‘I am telling you there will be elections in September and everything has
been worked out'”……

What is being proposed is a rule by zero-corrupt technocrats acting in the best interests of the nation (without being harassed by ankle-biting, low-information voters). We wonder why such a common-sense approach has not been acted on before  in Pakistan, and elsewhere, and why there is a lack of durable, successful techno-dictatorships (Chicoms are probably the closest to this ideal).


It is notable that Pakistan now (publicly) aspires to follow the example of Bangladesh, when right after Partition-I she imagined herself (with some justification) to be the new Medina in South Asia. 

One more point of interest (for parochial Bongs): a look at the map above and we note the likelihood of Bangla herself experiencing a coup in 2014, along with sister nations Nepal, Burma, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was a hundred years ago when the freedom fighter from Maharashtra, Gopal Krishna Gokhale noted: “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” This dictum updated for the C21 may read as “what Bangla thinks today, South Asia (sans India) thinks tomorrow.” We speak in jest, of course.
Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) President Javed Hashmi’s startling claims of a scripted
political crisis being engineered in Pakistan has led to widespread speculation
among analysts that a version of the ‘Bangladesh Model’ may be in the works.

had told the PTI core committee it won’t be called a martial law,” Hashmi
alleged at a press conference, hinting at a covert form of takeover by the
military establishment, using PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Chief of the Pakistan
Awami Tehreek Tahir-ul-Qadri as their instruments.

‘Bangladesh Model’, a soft coup, is based on the idea that the political system
must be cleansed of corrupt elements for the welfare of the public, which
perhaps has been left incapacitated to elect honest leaders.

The model
works on the premise that the military and judiciary must intervene to help
differentiate the ‘right’ from the ‘wrong’ before it is too late. The model
stipulates that the democracy that follows such a ‘cleansing’ is therefore a
truer form since the people have been rightly ‘guided’ and are now able to make
informed decisions.

Technocrats, current and former officials aligned with the military and
judiciary play a vital role in the implementation of the ‘Bangladesh Model’ of
which the strings are pulled from the background and through an interim
government that remains in power for a lengthy period as happened in Bangladesh in 2007.

“If Nawaz
Sharif survives, for the rest of his term, he will be a ceremonial prime
minister—the world will not take him seriously,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an
Islamabad-based analyst told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.
soft coup has already taken place. The question is whether it will

Reacting to the drama in Islamabad, the International Crisis Group (ICG) had
also warned last week that the possibilities of a coup were very high and that
such a development “would imperil any progress that has been made in
addressing grievous economic, development and security challenges.”

protests rocking Islamabad threaten to upend the constitutional order, set back
rule of law and open the possibility of a soft coup, with the military ruling
through the backdoor,” the ICG said in its statement.

According to the PTI president Hashmi, a script for such a move was laid out
well in advance.

Imran laid out the plan, I said to Imran, ‘Khan sahab what are you

said, ‘I am telling you there will be elections in September and everything has
been worked out.'”

In January
this year, the Washington Post cited Pakistan as ‘high risk’ on a list of
countries likely to face coup attempts.






“They have stormed the PTV office”

…..200 supporters of Qadri seized the PTV building……”They
have stormed the PTV office”…news anchor said just before the screen
went blank…..”PTV staff performing their journalistic duties are being
beaten up”…….Khan, who
like Qadri has since 15 August been living on the streets…..frequently
alluded to a “third umpire”….send Sharif home…veiled
reference to the army…..


This is looking like the beginning of the end. How long is it before Nawaz Sharif departs for Saudi Arabia. This guy is likely to be de-throned for the third time…this has to be a record of some sorts. The closest analogy we can think of is from the fictional depictions of Latin America a few decades back when there would be a musical chair full of supreme rulers which ever way you look.

One thing is for sure, we would not like to tangle with that youngster – the one in the fore-ground with an intense look and a thick stick – down a dark alleyway.

Here is our revenge in a teacup proposal. After the PTI-PAT combo comes to power, can the Sharif brothers return the favor by invading the inner sanctum with their supporters? The country will by then have moved to a permanent chaotic state. The new mind-set is as follows: why bother to co-operate in the national interest, when you can be in opposition and have fun all the time.
Anti-government protesters pushed further into sensitive areas
of the Pakistani capital on Monday, briefly taking over the state
broadcaster and forcing it off air.

The police force, under orders
from the beleaguered civilian government, did little to prevent
thousands of supporters of former cricket star Imran Khan
and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri from entering a compound containing
many government ministries in Islamabad and the offices of the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).

all-powerful army had decreed on Sunday night that the government
should not use force against protesters following clashes on Saturday in
which three people died and hundreds were injured.

The weekend
violence had been triggered when Qadri and Khan ordered their followers,
who had been camped on a road in a high security area of the capital
where government buildings are located, to storm the prime minister’s
residence although ultimately they only succeeded in flooding on to the
lawns of parliament.

On Monday more than 200 supporters of Qadri seized the PTV building, reportedly seizing weapons from security guards. “They
have stormed the PTV office,” a news anchor said just before the screen
went blank. “PTV staff performing their journalistic duties are being
beaten up.”

Army troops also refused to use force and protesters were free to simply mill amid the large troop deployment in the capital. Instead army soldiers asked the crowds to leave restricted areas and not enter government ministry buildings. Eventually, protesters were also persuaded to leave PTV, which then began broadcasting again.

sides of the dispute are treating the military with extreme caution and
respect. On Sunday it published a statement saying it was “committed to
playing its part in ensuring security of the state” but wanted the
situation to be “resolved politically without wasting any time and
without recourse to violent means”.

Many protesters say they hope
the army will step in to support their cause by either seizing power or
at least ordering prime minister Nawaz Sharif to step down, just 15
months after he was elected in a huge landslide victory.

Khan, who
like Qadri has since 15 August been living on the streets in a
specially modified sea container, has in his many speeches frequently
alluded to a “third umpire” who will send Sharif home – a thinly veiled
reference to the army.

Although the military has directly ruled
Pakistan for half of its history, and wielded enormous power behind the
scenes even when civilians have nominally been in control, many analysts
doubt the army wants to oust the government.

While senior
generals have repeatedly clashed with Sharif over the past year, an
unconstitutional removal of the government would jeopardise billions of
dollars of much needed US aid.

It is widely suspected however that
the army will attempt to use the crisis to clip the wings of Sharif,
who has defied the top brass by ordering a high treason trial for former
military ruler Pervez Musharraf and by pushing for better diplomatic
and trade relations with India.

But even though the military
appeared to be trying to remain as an independent arbitrator between the
two sides the extraordinary television pictures of troops flooding on
to the streets highlighted the government’s growing vulnerability.

of the soldiers were members of the 111 Brigade, which has been
responsible during past coups for grabbing government buildings – in
particular the offices of PTV. On Monday morning large numbers of troops were seen pouring into the office block in central Islamabad.

mornings have generally been quiet during the two-week long crisis that
has gripped Pakistan’s capital with political speeches and rallies
largely being held in the evening. But just before 9am the crowds
began to once again try to remove sea containers placed on roads leading
to the prime minister’s house. Despite the use of teargas and shooting
into the air above the protesters the police were unable to stop the
crowds moving to various areas around Islamabad’s Red Zone.

said attempts to negotiate had collapsed because the government had
refused to meet his main demand that the prime minister should step
down, even just temporarily whilst a commission of inquiry investigates
last year’s election that Khan claims was rigged to deprive him of

While the May 2013 election was not without
irregularities, no independent election monitoring group has supported
Khan’s claims of massive rigging that would have changed the overall

On Monday Khan said he would not call off the protests. “I
call upon my workers to remain peaceful,” Khan said from atop a
shipping container at the main rally site. “Do not carry out any acts of
violence. God has given us victory.”






This is Rape Culture

The untold story of how a culture of shame perpetuates abuse. I know, I was a victim:

It was with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes that I read about the horrific cases of abuse and neglect revealed in the Rotherham report this week.
Much of the media coverage has focused on how men of mostly Asian descent preyed on vulnerable young white victims. The details of this abuse are awful. But what has largely been ignored is the report’s finding that sexual abuse has been systemically under-reported among Asian girls due to deeply entrenched cultural taboos – obscuring the reality that there is a similarly rampant problem of minority girls being abused by members of their own community.
I have first-hand knowledge of this problem. I’m coming forward to publicly share my own story in the hope that I can encourage others to do the same and help tear down the wall of silence that perpetuates further abuse.
I grew up in a small community of a few hundred British-Pakistanis in Skipton, less than 60 miles from Rotherham. When I was 10 a neighbour started sexually abusing me. Paralysed by shame, I said nothing.

It was only after a decade away from Skipton that I was finally able to garner the courage to return and testify against my abuser. When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.

I don’t need to get into details with the audience of this weblog to know where this attitude comes from. Readers will be aware that it transcends religion and religiosity, though it is bound within the cultural matrix of which religion is part and parcel. My mother, who condemns Western immorality and libertinism, has expressed sadness that a pedophile who preyed upon girls within her social circle had to flee to Bangladesh, because of the shame it brought upon his family. That’s a culture for you.