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Anti-Semitism rises when populism lurches to the Right

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pushed a boulder into the pond: He called it “a pivotal moment in the history of Zionism and the Jewish state”. The Knesset (Parliament) had passed a law which says: “The right of national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.” Israel’s non-Jewish population have been left out. Assam’s Muslims, you are not alone.

Pic Credit :The Independent

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Call it coincidence or mysterious design, there are moments in world affairs when disparate societies have the same experience.

I had barely registered that the sword of Damocles hung on the heads of over four million people, mostly Muslims, in Assam by a very Orwellian sounding National Register of Citizens, when a friend from New York drew my attention to similar happenings in Israel.

In Assam, the terrified Muslims have apparently failed to provide documentary proof of citizenship. The BJP governments at the Centre and in the state have been at pains to reassure Muslims staring at the abyss that they will have a chance to appeal what is for the time being only a provisional finding of the NRC. In any case whatever is happening is at the Supreme Court’s prodding.

Meanwhile, far removed from Assam, on July 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s kindred spirit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pushed a boulder into the pond: He called it “a pivotal moment in the history of Zionism and the Jewish state”. The Knesset (Parliament) had passed a law which says: “The right of national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.” Israel’s non-Jewish population have been left out. Assam’s Muslims, you are not alone.

I wish someone in the opposition galaxy would lambast the NRC half as effectively as Hanan Ashrawi of the PLO did the Israeli “perfidy”. The Jewish Nation State law, she said, is “apartheid, discrimination, ethnic cleansing and sectarianism at the expense of the Palestinian people”.

The way Donald Trump is distributing largesse to both Netanyahu and Modi (shifting the embassy to Jerusalem and promising NATO status to India), he qualifies as their “big daddy” for more reasons than one. He set very high standards on how to treat the “others” when they try to violate national borders. He separated children from their parents. Children were sent to foster homes and parents to jail.

Netanyahu’s dilemma is as old as Israel: Is it a democracy or a Jewish state? The new law would tend to tilt the balance one way. Of all the American Presidents, Jimmy Carter was the only one to place his finger on the pulse: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

In the past, New Delhi always had two distinct approaches to Israel. There was a tweed-wearing, liberal, socialist disdain for Zionism opposed to a much more powerful “Hindu” empathy for the Jewish state which, like India, was surrounded by hostile Muslim neighbours.

Trump, the great guru of anti-foreigner xenophobia virtually tousled Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte’s hair, like a school master showering affection on a promising pupil. At a White House Joint Press Conference, Trump said: “I like your policies against illegal and legal immigrants.”

Matteo Salvini, of the xenophobic League Party, a self-confessed admirer of Mussolini, Deputy Prime Minister but in effect the driving force behind the coalition in Rome, must be swooning in ecstasy. He must feel reassured that he has kindred spirits in very high places.

His ties to Le Pen once raised the hackles of Jewish leaders like Riccardo Pacifici for anti-Semitic potential of the two. After all, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen was a holocaust denier. Salvini clarifies that he hates Muslims, not Jews. That is salutary.

I doubt if friends in Israel would be overtly impressed by a Mussolini admirer denying his anti-Semitic instincts. Indeed, there is growing anxiety that wherever across the globe the raging anti-establishment wave has taken a turn to the far right, anti-Semitism has followed.

The People’s Party in Austria, a very fascist outfit, under 31-year-old Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, has, as expected, revealed itself as virulently anti-Semitic. There are moves afoot to have Jews buying kosher meat to be placed on a separate registry. The most shrill voice supporting the move had been of Gottfried Waldhausl, former animal welfare minister. “Soon you will ask us to wear the Star of David on our chests” said a spokesman for the Jews.

In Austria has surfaced the perfect example of enemies joining hands in the face of common danger: Jewish and Muslim organisations have made common cause because “halal” meat too has come under fire.

Spokesman of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office has denounced attacks on “halal” meat for Muslims. “These are attacks on Jewish and Muslim ways of life.”

Global media, like the ostrich, has buried its head in the sand in the hope that a gust of anti-Semitism will pass even from a country like Poland where Auschwitz was supposed to be a constant reminder — “never again”. But what is happening is quite the contrary and scary. A law has been passed prohibiting Jews from reclaiming properties they lost during the holocaust.

Trump has rushed in with an act called “Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today”. In brief it is called the Just Act. It requires the State Department to monitor the activities of a dozen or so countries where anti-Semitism stands in the way of Jewish access to property lost during World War II. US President as a realtor is a brand new concept.

The potential of explosive nationalism (say, in Poland) being stoked by this kind of foreign intervention has apparently been lost on the authors. The image of Trump as a backyard bully will only grow, as will anti Semitism.

There is a profound lesson for a society like Israel in all of this. There is a potential for fascism, anti-Semitism, when anti-status quo movements take a sharp right turn. No such fear lurks when the Podemos rises in Spain, Syriza in Greece or when a 28-year-old Leftist bartender in New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, beats a 10-term Democratic Law maker, or when Lopez Obrador knocks the stuffing out of the Right in Mexico. There are examples galore. Neither Jews nor Gentiles are invoked when movements talk of distributive justice and inequality.

(A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on [email protected] . The views expressed are personal.)

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Mishandling Kashmir: Learning little from history

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Jammu-and-Kashmir

Independent India and I are both septuagenarians, but since I am a trifle older, I take the liberty of indulging in some reminiscences on the nation’s 71st birthday. My recollections are focused on Kashmir where I was born, in a town called Anantnag.

I particularly remember the traumatic night of October 30, 1947 when India was 10 weeks old and I had just turned three. In my mother’s arms I, with two elder siblings, hid under bushes in our garden as bullets ricocheted off our cottage roof. We lived in Badgam village, 30 km from Srinagar airport. The fusillade was coming from surrounding hills, occupied by Pakistani kabailis (tribals), en route from Uri and Baramulla, hoping to capture Srinagar airport.

At dawn, we piled into the family horse-drawn tonga, with just the clothes on our back and fled to the airport, where RIAF DC-3 Dakotas were disembarking Indian troops. We clambered into a departing aircraft, which flew us to Delhi, and refuge, with relatives.

Growing up in lovely little towns of the Valley in post-independence decades was idyllic and I reluctantly parted from my parents in Leh in 1959, to join college and the Indian Navy. In Jammu and Kashmir, my playmates were all Kashmiris — of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faith. Our parents were friends; we ate in each others’ homes and celebrated festivals together. But even as children, we understood that Kashmir was not (yet) India, and that the average Kashmiri’s attitude towards India was ambivalent.

India provided huge financial assistance to Jammu and Kashmir: Food, education, clothing and medicine were either free or heavily subsidised. Kashmiris would accept the largesse, but tune in every evening to Radio Pakistan which invariably played on their religious heart-strings, spouting propaganda about “occupation” of Kashmir and “atrocities” by the Bharatiya fauj (Indian Army).

Kashmir’s first ‘Prime Minister’ (he was called Wazir-e-Azam) Sheikh Abdullah was the state’s tallest figure then; a friend of Nehru’s and a staunch secularist, he was the self-styled Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir). In 1953 we were startled to hear that he had allegedly conspired with the Americans to become “King Abdullah” of an independent Kashmir. He was arrested and the Valley burst into flames.

I recall seeing my father, then Magistrate of Baramulla, coming home, bleeding from the head; there had been stone-pelting in the old town, as agitators waved Pakistani flags and shouted pro-Pakistan slogans.

While the 1950s and 60s may not have witnessed wild enthusiasm for India, there was neither hostility nor bitterness amongst Kashmiris.

However, an utterly unimaginative New Delhi had little to offer them, apart from money. As much as 95 per cent of the millions that India poured into Jammu and Kashmir never reached the impoverished Kashmiri. In the absence of a politico-economic strategy for creating jobs, industry or infrastructure, Indian money merely enriched Kashmiri politicians and aggravated popular resentment and alienation, which Pakistan exploited.

India’s maladroitness did not end here. A succession of Pakistani-orchestrated incidents, between 1963 and 1999, demonstrated the ineptness of our intelligence agencies, lack of civil-military coordination and the complete strategic bankruptcy of New Delhi. This depressing sequence included the theft of Prophet Mohammad’s sacred relic, seizure of Hazaratbal shrine, capture and burning of the Charar-e-Sharif shrine, expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, the Kargil War and hijacking of IC-814.

This reminiscence is not a history of Kashmir’s travails, but merely a reminder to those who profess shock at recent developments in the Valley that the Indian state has, since 1947, learnt nothing from history, repeated its mistakes and failed to convince Kashmiris that they are Indian.

The French have a cynical aphorism: “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. This Independence Day, let us introspect if this is true of India’s management of Kashmir.

(The author is a former chief of the Indian Navy and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor.)

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I-Day musing: Does not the law and its protecton apply to all?

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Indian independence

August 15 this year marks the 71st anniversary of Indian independence. As the Prime Minister unfurls the national flag at the Red Fort, it is a celebratory moment; yet, a certain sense of bleakness and despondency is palpable. There is a deeply ingrained perception that anarchy is spreading in the country and that the state has abdicated in its primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of every citizen, irrespective of religion, caste, class and gender. Recent events bear testimony to this mood.

In an unprecedented development, the Attorney General (AG) of India K.K. Venugopal informed the Supreme Court in an anguished manner that there was an incident of major rioting every week in different parts of the country and that they often go unpunished. The AG noted: “Kanwarias (a sect of Hindu pilgrims) are overturning vehicles in Delhi…There is an incident of major rioting every week, even by educated groups. Marathas in Maharashtra, SC/ST (scheduled caste/scheduled tribe)… nothing is done.”

Earlier, a former Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, asked a very pertinent question: “When we see day in and day out, mobs lynching people, it’s a complete failure of rule of law. If a mob can take the law into its hands and administer summary justice, what kind of rule of law is this?”

The sub-text in both cases is that the Indian State has become selective in how it applies the law and that there is a tacit indifference to the safety and welfare of the minority citizenry.

Thus what is disturbing is the pattern that emerges in the disaggregation of the violence that is ostensibly spontaneous — be it the rioting mob, the beef-lynchings or now the Kanwarias, the annual north Indian ritual of carrying water from the Ganga to one’s home.

Thousands of Hindu devotees walk long distances in July-August to collect the sacred water and, over the years, the numbers have been swelling and the entire event has acquired a huge carnival profile with music, dancing, et al. Given the religious significance attached to the event and the majority Hindu sentiment nurtured by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Kanwaria pilgrimage also has an electoral relevance. This has clearly become more acute in the run-up to the 2019 national election.

Indian politics and the gradual absorption of the religious leader to high office is exemplified by the election of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk, as the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh in March 2017. This was a significant development at the time for South Asia, for not even Pakistan, which was created on the basis of religion, had appointed an Islamic cleric to such office.

Thus, in August, India witnessed an unusual spectacle — that of Kanwarias being showered with rose petals from a helicopter by none less than the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and senior police officials. That some of these Kanwarias have become a law unto themselves has been brought to the attention of the courts – but as the AG noted, “nothing is done”.

The ascendancy of religious orientation in Indian politics and the BJP’s empathy for unbridled Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) fervour has an electoral dimension to it. Uttar Pradesh is the swing state that will shape the outcome at the in 2019 elections. Thus the pandering to the majority community is predictable — but this comes with a very heavy price.

Citizenship in India is no longer equal and the law, alas, is not applied equitably. On its 71st independence anniversary, one cannot ignore the conjecture that India, which had determinedly rejected the two-nation theory in August 1947, is now moving towards it in a visible manner. The question whether the silent Indian majority, that is Hindu, subscribes to the ugly manifestation of Hindutva and the violence associated with it, remains moot. But the state cannot abdicate and the exhortation of the Attorney General should not be ignored.

(The author is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor)

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Projecting Rahul as PM candidate is conscious effort by BJP: AAP

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Modi Rahul

New Delhi, Aug 9 (IANS) The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) believes that the BJP is consciously trying to position the 2019 Lok Sabha election as a Rahul Gandhi-versus-Narendra Modi affair for its own convenience.

AAP leader and chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said the projection of Rahul Gandhi will only harm the opposition.

“Projecting Rahul as PM candidate is a conscious effort of the BJP to position this contest as Rahul-versus-Modi as it suits them,” Bhardwaj told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said, was choosing its opponent according to its convenience.

“If they choose Mayawati or Mamata, there is a problem. Rahul has never been a minister or a Chief Minister,” said the MLA from Greater Kailash constituency who is a known confidant of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The BJP was creating a perception in which Modi will be seen as a stronger candidate in the battle for prime ministership when his opponent is Rahul Gandhi.

“The perception created about Rahul is to ensure that if there is a contest between Rahul and Modi, Modi will be a stronger candidate,” he said.

But the projection of Rahul Gandhi suits the Congress, he added.

“The Congress is also liking this positioning as it suits them. Their leader is getting the limelight.

“However, this positioning will not suit the opposition’s fight against Modi and the BJP. Projecting Rahul as PM will be a loss for the opposition,” he warned.

He added that for the last three months, BJP leaders, including Modi, were attacking Rahul Gandhi. “Attacking Rahul by taking his name is BJP’s poll strategy.”

Taking about the contest in the national capital, where the AAP is in power, Bhardwaj said the Lok Sabha battle would be between the BJP and AAP.

“The fight in Delhi is between AAP and BJP. Congress will not get a single seat. Their vote percentage may go up, but they will not win seats.”

Bhardwaj also said that the AAP was not part of any opposition alliance. “The party has no plans of giving support to anyone in 2019. Also, there is no plan for any kind of alliance or understanding with the Congress. This is very clear,” he added.

Speaking about AAP’s preparations for the Lok Sabha polls, he said the party had appointed “prabharis” (in-charge) for five of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies in June.

“The remaining two will be appointed very soon. Within a week hopefully. It is very likely that they will also be the candidates.”

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP bagged all the seven seats in Delhi. The AAP came stood second in all constituencies and the Congress finished third in six and in fourth spot in one constituency.

The AAP swept the later, February 2015, Assembly elections, winning 67 of the 70 seats. The BJP won three seats and the Congress none.

(Nivedita Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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