Blowing Hot and Cold
Brands of Secularism
Substitute for Google
Think it Through
Blowing Hot and Cold
One of my hobbies is to find out who is behind which official pronouncement of the Chinese leaders i.e., which center of power in China. And there’re indeed several. Is it what’s officially described the Government of China, or the Communist Party or People’s Liberation Army? China is blessed with a multiplicity of sources of power, each flowing from different barrels of different guns. And we should be ready to deal with one and all.
Now, there must have been an official invitation from Chinese Government in response to which our Defense Minister Anthony went on an official trip to Beijing to further promote mutual good relations as official communiqués will soon tell us. And before he had yet met the Chinese leadership, appears Maj. Gen. Lou, working with the Department of World Military Research of the People’s Liberation Army. Speaking at a function, he reminds us about tensions and problems that exist between the two countries, particularly in the border areas since some “90,000 square kilometer of Chinese territory (is) still occupied by the Indian side.”
Doesn’t that remind you of the phrase blowing hot and blowing cold? One of Aesop’s Fables tells us about a cold winter’s day (when you’ll like to be under a cozy quilt in a warm room).
A freezing traveler was walking and all the time blowing on his stiff fingers. Mystified, a sylvan deity wanted to know what was he up to? The man explained to him that, with his breath, he was warming his chilled fingers. Taking pity on him, the deity invited the man over to his home for a hot meal. This time, he watched him blowing on the food, which intrigued him all the more. Inquiring why he did so, his guest explained that he was blowing on the stew to cool it down. Seeing him indulge in contradictory activities he told the traveler to get going. He was not prepared to entertain or mix with, someone who could ‘blow hot and cold from the same mouth’.
That’s what the official spokesmen of the Chinese Republic specialize in. One moment a leader makes a statement of the paramount need to resolve mutual differences amicably and peacefully. Next day, another leader speaks in unmistakably bellicose tone. Whom do you believe?
The largest and most famous sphinx in today’s Egypt is not the Great Sphinx of Giza, adjacent to the Great Pyramids on the west bank of the Nile. It is the Muslim Brotherhood. And the organization, under lens of late, is no stranger to mysteries since its founding in 1928. No one knows till today how many members does it have. There’re only conjectures. Its finances too are wrapped in mystery — no one has an idea where the money comes from and where does it go. Its chain of command is murky; the goals and the guiding philosophy have never been spelled out clearly.
The Egyptian revolution, which has rolled forward and backward, lurched and staggered along for nearly two years, has failed to answer some of the basic questions facing Egyptian society. However, the past year has solved one mystery: we now know how the Muslim Brotherhood behaves when it gets a taste of power.
And it did give advance warning. The organization has never recognized the State of Israel, and it denies that Al Qaeda carried out the attacks of 9/11. When Mohamed Morsi was campaigning for President as the candidate from the group’s Freedom and Justice Party, he stood on a stage outside Cairo University and shouted, “I swear before God and I swear to you all, regardless of what is written in the constitution, Sharia will be applied!”
So, the man had two contradictory agendas: one personal and the other public. The contradiction was bound to stand exposed. And it did.
Among other things, the Arab Spring had demanded of political Islam that it repudiates religious authoritarianism, and publicly uphold citizenship based on equal rights for all.
Instead, Morsi wanted to place himself above judicial review, railroaded through a muddled Constitution, allowed Brotherhood thugs to beat up liberal opponents, installed cronies in positions of power; like, Pakistan increased blasphemy prosecutions, surrendered to a siege mentality, lost control of a crumbling economy and presided over – in fact, encouraged - growing sectarian violence.
As Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-Prize winning diplomat put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine: “The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mind-set. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.”
This was Morsi’s fundamental failure. He succumbed to Islamic authoritarianism in a nation whose revolution was diverse and demanded inclusiveness. The lesson for the region is critical. Egypt is its most important experiment in combining Islam with democratic modernity, the only long-term way to overcome the sectarian violence raging in Syria and elsewhere. If it fails, it would have serious ripple effects all over the Muslim world.
Do you know we have in India a National Disaster Management Authority? You’ll ask what does it to do? Of course, planning, how to meet national disasters; if and when they strike. Its grand vision statement reads — as all such statements do: “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, pro-active, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy for disaster management through collective efforts of all Government Agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations.” Can you improve on it? Certainly not.
How often does it meet? Don’t ask me that. Once a year? Nothing of the sort. It held no meetings at all between 2008 and 2011 and only one after 2011. Its Vice-chairperson, M Shashidhar Reddy, is a sitting MLA from Andhra Pradesh with very little time to spare. The four-time legislator has the status of a Cabinet minister. Other members enjoy the rank of minister of state but also seem to have little time to plan relief and rehabilitation when disaster strikes.
Of course, our beloved Prime Minister is the Chairperson (whatever that means) who has no time for these things like natural and unnatural disasters until they have really occurred.
When an unprecedented natural disaster struck Uttarakhand, it took NDM members full three days just to assemble. And after that, what mess did they make. You know as well as I do.
One question that may still be troubling you, is why are such bodies created if they serve no purpose? We Indians are status hungry. Everyone who’s somebody in our politics wants recognition which comes from holding some office or the others which can be printed on his calling card. And there’s fortunately no dearth of sinecure positions in our body politic.
The latest biennial election to the Rajya Sabha from Tamil Nadu exposes the hypocrisy of the DMK and — if there was still any scope - the skin-deep commitment of the Congress to eradicating corruption. Four candidates of the ruling AIADMK and a candidate each of the DMK and the CPI were elected. Only three months ago the DMK parted company with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for its “mishandling” of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. Yet, M. Karunanidhi had no qualms about requesting UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to direct her party’s five MLAs in Tamil Nadu to vote for his dear daughter, Kanimozhi, who, you’ll recall, was in Tihar jail for allegedly receiving kickbacks in the 2G spectrum scam.
Of the six victorious opposition candidates, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh singled out Kanimozhi to telephone and congratulate. What an endearing gesture! As a doting father, Karunanidhi desperately wanted Kanimozhi to continue her membership of the Rajya Sabha as she has to remain in Delhi to face trial. She can now fly back and forth at your expense and mine.
Brands of Secularism
What can one learn from the Turkish experience? That it is possible for an openly non-secular party to win majority repeatedly in an erstwhile secular country. The test is that the party delivers on development and improves internal security. Obviously, voters put economic and safety issues way above secularism or socialism or communalism. The non-secular gestures of the AKP have been mild so far and relate mainly to matters like dress codes that don’t really affect the lives of common people.
Turkey’s secularism is against the majority religion. Its origins are in the atheism of its founder Kemal Pasha. Secularism means a total separation between the State and religion. Indian secularism is not anti-religious. Nehru was an atheist and had zero tolerance for superstitions. He never frequented temples, or swamis, or consulted horoscopes except Pandit Haveli Ram during his last illness when the end was in sight. Indira Gandhi was religious when it suited her purpose and indeed, insisted on choosing an auspicious day to move into Teen Murti, much to the chagrin of her father. Because of her, secularism means tolerance of all religions. However, it only cares about protecting the Muslim minority, not Sikhs or Christians.
Muslims have not really benefited from this. Yet, paradoxically, Muslim vote is most ‘secular’ in UP and Bihar where Muslims show the least economic advancement. Is it better to be secular but poor? Social media bloggers are too well-off to find out. The people must answer that question in the voting booth.
Substitute for Google
One of my pastimes is to watch out the inscriptions on T-shirts people support. Recently, I ran into a perfect gem
“I don’t need
My wife knows everything.”
Lucky chap, isn’t he? Or, perhaps the bloke hails from a pre-Google era of human thought.
Think it Through
The British writer, Gerald Brenan best known for The Spanish Labyrinth once said “When the grasshopper gathers its strength to hop, it does not know where it will land.”
Isn’t what’s true of grasshoppers, true of all of us?