Rahul Gandhi: A changed captive – Ravi Shankar

Rahul Gandhi

Ravi Shankar Etteth“The Congress party got wiped out by Modi. Modi beat the establishment by becoming the establishment himself. Every politician is a captive of the need for relevance. Rahul has realised that. The new Rahul’s vicious personal attacks in Parliament, his attempt to co-opt the President of India in a film institute squabble, and his ritualistic visit to protesting ex-servicemen wearing a cap with OROP printed on it shows that he has changed. His conscience and altruism have given way to the time-tested cynicism of the very same party politics he and his father tried to change.” – Ravi Shankar

Rahul Gandhi & Sonia GandhiEvery man is his own prisoner. Camus was wrong when he said every man is an island. He is not. He is a prisoner of what defines him—his conscience, his ambition, hate or compassion, humanitarian instincts, and his ideology. The essence of Hindu philosophy is that the soul is trapped inside the body and freedom through action leads to becoming one with the Supreme, thus removing fetters.

Rahul Gandhi is no committed Hindu. He is a prisoner of his agenda. The discovery of India captivated the boy who had grown up in a privileged, protected environment where family tradition dictated that his destiny was to rule India. So like his father, Rajiv, who reluctantly entered politics after the death of his fiercely ambitious brother Sanjay—who was bound to the dream of creating a modern India at any cost—Rahul, too, was a hesitant entrant. It is his karma as India’s politically blue-blooded scion to lead the party and the country, urged his party men, who knew they would be in the wilderness without a Gandhi.

When Rahul arrived as the new hope of the Congress, there was a strong similarity to his father’s style. An introvert who relied on a coterie of technocrat friends armed with data and PowerPoint, earning him the sneering epithet of ‘rocket scientist’ from party elders, who feared being sidelined by a young upstart. The system, a rotten edifice of sycophancy, corruption and cynical electoral arithmetic, swung into action. It reminded them of the threat Rajiv Gandhi posed to their fiefdoms in his historic speech at the Congress Centenary Session held in Bombay on December 28, 1985. He called for the ouster of “brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a Rajiv Gandhi, Bombay, 1985mass movement into a feudal oligarchy”. It was ironic coming from a man who was himself part of a politically feudal oligarchy. Rajiv was a prisoner of his dream to change the party and India. His son Rahul inherited it. Rahul’s famous 2008 speech in Parliament about Kalavati, a poor farmer’s widow, earned him sneers and jeers from the Opposition, but he continued unfazed. Rahul, then, was a prisoner of his naiveté, convinced that he could change the system. It is another matter that Kalavati suddenly catapulted to her five minutes of fame, tried her hand at politics, but that is not Rahul’s fault. He tried to understand his country, by staying over in the huts of the tribal poor, travelling second class in trains, and sleeping in the open in villages. His young followers followed suit, braving the mosquitoes, and that alone should have alerted him that sycophancy was the survival code in the system. But it didn’t.

The Congress party got wiped out by Modi. Modi beat the establishment by becoming the establishment himself. Every politician is a captive of the need for relevance. Rahul has realised that. The new Rahul’s vicious personal attacks in Parliament, his attempt to co-opt the President of India in a film institute squabble, and his ritualistic visit to protesting ex-servicemen wearing a cap with OROP printed on it shows that he has changed. His conscience and altruism have given way to the time-tested cynicism of the very same party politics he and his father tried to change. The establishment has succeeded in capturing him in the end. Rahul is no longer his own prisoner but theirs. Some see it as maturing. But in reality, it is a life sentence. – The New Indian Express, 16 August 2015

» Ravi Shankar Etteth is an author, cartoonist and columnist for The New Indian Express. Email him at ravi@newindianexpress.com

Rahul Gandhi


Warren Anderson’s Release: A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma – B. S. Raghavan

Rajiv GandhiOh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
– Sir Walter Scott

Since everybody is on the job of unravelling the mystery behind the abrupt release of the Chairman, Mr Warren Anderson, of the Union Carbide, after first arresting him on arrival in Bhopal after the horrendous tragedy, why not I throw my hat in the ring? But first, in fairness, I must make a disclaimer and ask for caution.

What I am going to set out falls within the domain of deductive logic, heavily borrowing from the tell-tale technique of fictional heroes, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The clues are all in favour of supporting the proposition that Rajiv Gandhi had a compelling reason to want to oblige the US Administration by releasing Warren Anderson.

I would not have ventured to come out with it unless I had thought it plausible after obtaining the honestly-expressed views of many friends with long experience of holding high responsibilities and eminent in their own spheres.

I simply narrate the happenings at the same period as when the gruesome catastrophe took place at Bhopal for you to mull over.

Mohammed YunusThe happenings

Now, to the happenings before and after the Bhopal tragedy insofar as it relates to Rajiv Gandhi. Adil Shahryar, the son of Muhammad Yunus, who was almost a part of the Indira Gandhi family, and a mentor of both Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, was tried in a US District Court by a jury, and convicted on an indictment of five counts (including trying to blow up a ship, illegal possession of firearms and carrying them across State borders and drug trafficking) and sentenced in 1982 to 35 years hard labour in prison.

He appealed to the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals which rejected the appeal on November 21, 1983 saying, “We find that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the verdicts and therefore affirm the district court’s (judgment).”

PrisonerIt is not unreasonable to imagine what a shock this would have been to Yunus and how desperate he must have been to get his son released by using the influence of his highly placed friends. The fact of his leaving no stone unturned is evident from the fact that at one stage, the famous actor Charlton Heston (Ten Commandments, Benhur, The Bold and the Beautiful) got into the act to write to the US Attorney General (pdf), William F. Smith, asking him to intervene in the case. That he was sternly rebuffed (pdf) is another matter.

When Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister, it is not far-fetched to believe that he must have come under relentless pressure from Yunus to make the release of Adil from US jail his topmost priority, even if it be by using his position and broaching the matter directly to President Ronald Reagan.

It was just at that time — December 3, 1984 — the Bhopal tragedy shook the world. If Rajiv Gandhi’s appeal to Reagan on Yunus’ behalf were to succeed, it was imperative to make a gesture that would somehow make President Reagan deal with Rajiv Gandhi’s request favourably.

Warren AndersonGood bargain

Hey, presto! Warren Anderson is given VIP treatment and allowed to fly out of the country on December 7, 1984 and Adil Shahriyar is granted presidential pardon “as a goodwill gesture” and “for reasons of state” on June 11, 1985.

It certainly was a good bargain to exchange a convict undergoing a 35-year sentence for heinous offences in the US for an American corporate honcho, in order to oblige a long-time family friend. – Business Line, 14 June  2010


The Nehru family fight – Madhav Nalapat

M.D. Nalapat“Because of the fall in popularity of the Congress Party and a rise in popularity of the BJP, there seems to be rising panic within the ruling party’s ranks. In order to ensure that Maneka and Varun are not seen as what they are, full members of the Nehru family, a diatribe has been launched against them, including by Sonia and her two children.” – Prof Madhav Nalapat

Feroze Jehangir GandhiEvery family is subject to its feuds and tensions, and the Nehru family is no exception. Because the husband of Jawaharlal Nehru’s only child, Indira Priyadarshini, was re-named “Feroze Gandhi” by Mahatma Gandhi himself, the Nehru family has usually (and inaccurately) been referred to as the “Gandhi family” when in fact there is no blood tie between any of them and any member of Mahatma Gandhi’s family. Indeed, the latter have been conspicuous in the way in which they have declined to take advantage of their world-famous ancestor.

Whether it be Gopal Gandhi, the soft-spoken diplomat who was also Governor of West Bengal, or any of the other descendants of the Mahatma, each has shown a modesty and a dignity that has remained immune to the lure of either power or money. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi has adopted a leading role in the country’s politics, and uses such perquisites of high office as corporate jets while staying in a huge mansion that would cost about $150 million if placed on the open market. Of course, she gets it virtually rent-free from the Government of India, which also takes care of much of the travel and other costs incurred by her and her family members. Interestingly, both son Rahul as well as daughter Priyanka have their own state-provided mansions in Delhi, even while their mother stays in a dwelling that is by any standard palatial, and which has more than enough room to accommodate the two children. There has always been tension between Sonia Gandhi, the wife of elder son of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and Maneka Gandhi, the Sikh bride of younger son Sanjay. During the period from the Congress defeat at the 1977 polls to Indira Gandhi’s victory in the 1980 polls, it was Sanjay and Maneka who gave courage to Indira Gandhi, and who carelessly worked towards a political comeback. During this entire period, Rajiv And Sonia were abroad for extended lengths of time, or spending time away from Indira Gandhi and Sanjay.

Indira Gandhi & Sanjay GandhiIndeed, it was no secret that Rajiv and Sonia regarded Sanjay Gandhi as responsible for the downfall of Indira Gandhi, or that Sonia Gandhi had the same feelings towards the younger and attractive Maneka as have been immortalised in “Bahu versus Bahu” soap operas throughout the subcontinent, whether in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. After the death of Sanjay Gandhi in 1980, which occurred soon after Indira Gandhi returned to power and Sanjay emerged as the second-most powerful person in the country, reports have it that Sonia worked ceaselessly to poison the mind of Indira Gandhi against the young widow, Maneka Gandhi, such that the latter was forced to leave the Prime Ministers House along with her infant son. Since then, Maneka has followed a political career entirely independent of the Nehru family, unlike family of Rajiv Gandhi, which has enjoyed the privileges of state patronage ever since.

How did Sanjay Gandhi die? It was in an air crash, when the small aircraft flown by him crashed. But Sanjay was an excellent pilot, and there is talk that the aileron wires were filed in such a way that a few hard tugs on the joystick would have resulted in their fraying and breaking away, thereby sending the aircraft into a fatal dive, which is exactly what happened. There have been whispers that the incident was arranged by local agents of the intelligence agency of a huge country that Sanjay was open in his dislike of. This was the USSR, now defunct. Moscow saw Delhi as its most important strategic partner in Asia, and was apprehensive that Sanjay Gandhi would persuade his mother to move away from the USSR to get closer to Washington, the way Anwar Sadat had in Egypt.

Pope John Paul II with Rajiv & Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi in 1986. Rajiv & Sonia were good Catholics and very good friends of Moscow (who paid Rajiv large amounts of money).Certainly Sanjay Gandhi was an individual of firm views, and he was never afraid to express them. Such transparency may have been his undoing. Certainly, with the death of Sanjay Gandhi, all expectations of a geopolitical shift from Moscow to Washington disappeared. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were very respectful of the USSR and it needs to be mentioned that this loyalty by a Congress Party dominated by them continued to the very last hours of the USSR. Of course, much of the cause was the approach of Washington towards Delhi, with successive US administrations looking not for the crafting of a fair bargain but a surrender by India to the dictates of the US. Sonia Gandhi has several admirers in the Indian media, among which is Vir Sanghvi, who lost his temper at this columnist on a television show some days ago. This was because Vir (who is ordinarily very pleasant and well-mannered) mentioned that Sanjay Gandhi’s widow Maneka “was not a Gandhi”. Such a view is in sync with that of much of the media, which forgets that Indira Gandhi had two sons, and that both families have the same right to legacy of the family.Indeed, out of fear or respect for Sonia, a conscious effort has been made to airbrush Maneka and her son Varun (who is also an MP in the BJP) from any discussion of the Nehru family.

Maneka & Varun GandhiHowever, because of the fall in popularity of the Congress Party and a rise in popularity of the BJP, there seems to be rising panic within the ruling party’s ranks. In order to ensure that Maneka and Varun are not seen as what they are, full members of the Nehru family, a diatribe has been launched against them, including by Sonia and her two children. This is unfortunate. Family is family, and civilities need to be maintained untainted by politics.No more can the fiction be maintained that Indira Gandhi had in effect only a single son, Rajiv, and that other son, Sanjay (and his wife and son) are seen as unpersons. The more Sonia and her children rail against Maneka and her son,the faster will be the loss of their public support and popularity. The people of India respect family ties,and those that uphold them. – Pakistan Observer, 18 April 2014

» Prof M.D. Nalapat is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Karnataka State, India.

Shahzada on the blink!

Rahul Gandhi & Arnab Goswami: The interview that wasn’t – Anand Ranganathan

Rahul Gandhi & Arnab Goswami

Arnab Goswami: Mr Rahul Gandhi, welcome to Frankly Speaking.

Rahul Gandhi: Thank you, Arnab.

Arnab: So finally … here we are – your first one-to-one interview in 10 years.

Rahul: Yes.

Arnab: Why?

Rahul: Why what?

Arnab: Why has it taken you 10 years to give an interview?

Rahul: Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve always …

Arnab: Now you’ve probably heard about me.

Rahul: Yes.

Arnab: I don’t ask any easy questions, Mr Gandhi.

Rahul: So I’ve been told.

Arnab: You might not like it.

Rahul: I’m ready.

Arnab: In which case, may I ask Mr Jairam Ramesh and Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia to kindly leave this room?

Rahul: … [Looks at the two men uncomfortably. Gestures with his eyes for them to leave.] …

Arnab: Thank you, Mr Gandhi.

Rahul: This wasn’t my idea, by the way. I was prepared to face you on my own. Just that …

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, we should begin. We have plenty to cover.

Rahul: Yes. I’ve been wanting to elaborate on the idea of India that …

Arnab: Do you think Congress was responsible for the 1984 riots?

Rahul: What?

Arnab: Straight question.

Rahul: … Thousands were killed. I profoundly regret the loss of even a single life. And let me tell …

Arnab: Do you think Congress was responsible for the 1984 riots?

Rahul: This has been debated umpteen times. Answer is no.

Arnab: No?

Rahul: … Some Congress leaders were, yes.

Arnab: Who?

Rahul: Some.

Arnab: Name them, please.

Rahul: It’s public knowledge.

Arnab: All the more easier for you to name them, then.

Rahul: It’s in the court records. The guilty will be punished.

Arnab: Have they been?

Rahul: They will be. I have full faith in the Indian judiciary.

Arnab: Have they been, Mr Gandhi?

Rahul: My faith in Indian democr …

Arnab: How long has it been since the anti-Sikh riots?

Rahul: … 28 years … no …

Arnab: How long?

Rahul: 30 years …

Arnab: Have the guilty been punished?

Rahul: We have certainly punished them.

Arnab: Have you?

Rahul: Yes.

Arnab: By “we”, you mean?

Rahul: Congress. Indian National Congress.

Arnab: How?

Rahul: Sorry?

Arnab: How? By giving them tickets to fight elections?

Rahul: No.

Arnab: No? Remember the Chidambaram shoe-throwing incident?

Rahul: … We … Look – my faith in the justice system is unshakeable.

Arnab: Really? Did your mother receive a summons from the United States of America Justice System?

Rahul: What? No.

Arnab: No?

Rahul: She was there on medical treatment.

Arnab: That wasn’t the question.

Rahul: What was the question?

Arnab: Did Ms Sonia Gandhi receive a summons or not?

Rahul: Might have …

Arnab: Sorry, could you be louder? …

Rahul: I said, she did. Happy?

Arnab: And what happened to it?

Rahul: I have full faith in the Indian Judiciary not the American one.

Arnab: Really?

Rahul: Really.

Arnab: Tell me. Do you hold Mr Modi responsible for the 2002 riots?

Rahul: Yes. Undoubtedly.

Arnab: Why?

Rahul: Why? Because he orchestrated the whole pogrom.

Arnab: Who said so?

Rahul: Everyone says so. The people, the politicians, the media – your own correspondents have told me so.

Arnab: What about the Supreme Court?

Rahul: What about it?

Arnab: Has it held Mr Modi guilty?

Rahul: Sorry?

Arnab: You just now said that you have full faith in the Indian judiciary.

Rahul: I do.

Arnab: So I’m asking you this again. It doesn’t matter what you or I think. I’m asking you whether the Supreme Court has held Mr Modi guilty.

Rahul: It hasn’t.

Arnab: And do you respect the Supreme Court verdict?

Rahul: … I do.

Arnab: So he isn’t guilty, then.

Rahul: … Ok, he isn’t.

Arnab: Please repeat that for the benefit of our viewers.

Rahul: Yes, he isn’t guilty. But he should certainly apologise.

Arnab: What about Jadgish Tytler? Is he guilty?

Rahul: Mr Modi should certainly apologise.

Arnab: That is a matter of choice for an individual. I might want him to apologise. You might want him to apologise. But the question here is whether the Supreme Court of India has held him guilty of a crime or not.

Rahul: He should apologise.

Arnab: I ask again. What about Jadgish Tytler? Is he guilty?

Rahul: The courts haven’t delivered their verdict yet.

Arnab: Correct. So he might be guilty.

Rahul: … He might be.

Arnab: So Tytler might be guilty but Modi isn’t.

Rahul: … Yes, I suppose that is correct.

Arnab: … Moving over to another …

Rahul: Thank you. Let me start off by saying that through the RTI and the NREGA, we have …

Arnab: Tell me, Mr Gandhi, do you think Mr Vadra – your brother-in-law – do you think he got undue favours from DLF in the land deals?

Rahul: What?

Arnab: I am asking about Robert Vadra. Do you think DLF gave him undue favours?

Rahul: No.

Arnab: No? Mr Vadra purchased 31 properties amounting to 300 crores in a frighteningly short span of time.

Rahul: He might have. He is a businessman. Business people buy stuff all the time. Do you question Tatas or Birlas?

Arnab: Do Tatas get unsecured loans? What about the unsecured loan?

Rahul: That’s between Robert and DLF.

Arnab: Nothing to do with you?

Rahul: Nothing.

Arnab: What about the Sky Light cheque that was never encashed?

Rahul: Precisely. It was never encashed.

Arnab: Yes, why wasn’t it?

Rahul: I’m sorry. You must realise that the young generation of this country wants a …

Arnab: Sky Light – Mr Vadra’s company – had Rs 1 lakh in their account, yet they wrote a cheque for 7.5 crores towards Onkareshwar Properties. Corporation Bank cheque number 607251 for Rs 7.5 crores. Why?

Rahul: It was strictly above-board.

Arnab: You know anything about Onkareshwar Properties?

Rahul: They are legitimate.

Arnab: Onkareshwar is owned by Govind Kanda, member of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee. Brother of Congress legislator Gopal Kanda who is in jail.

Rahul: Unfortunate.

Arnab: Within two months of the presentation of 7.5 crore sham cheque, Mr Vadra sold the land to DLF for Rs. 58 crores. He shortly began receiving this money in instalments, first of which arrived in June of 2008. This advance money went into paying sums to Onkareshwar. Magically, Sky Light didn’t put any of its money to buy land and yet was receiving money into its coffers.

Rahul: What’s all this got to do with me?

Arnab: Your family member indulges in such activities. He wants to join politics, he said so a while ago. You might become the PM of this country. You mean to tell me all this has nothing to do with you?

Rahul: Of course not. Look, these are police and judicial matters. I have full faith in the judiciary.

Arnab: The problem is they haven’t been made into police or judicial matters.

Rahul: Why haven’t they?

Arnab: Good you ask that. They should be, isn’t it?

Rahul: … Yes.

Arnab: Sorry? What was that again Mr Gandhi?

Rahul: I said, yes. They should be.

Arnab: Thank you. Now about the other matter that …

Rahul: Thank you, finally. I’ve been wanting to say this for some time now. India stands on the threshold of a destiny that …

Arnab: Who was Quattrocchi?

Rahul: What?

Arnab: I asked you a simple question, Mr Gandhi.

Rahul: I didn’t hear it.

Arnab: So I’ll ask again.

Rahul: Ask me about 2G, about CWG, about Coalgate …

Arnab: Who was Q?

Rahul: Ask me about the corruption of others in the Congress party. Ask me about Adarsh.

Arnab: Who was this Q?

Rahul: Corruption is a problem. I know it is. I want to deal with it with an iron-hand. We’ll spare no one. Ask me about CWG.

Arnab: Who was Q? Who was he?

Rahul: I’ll straighten the corrupt out, I promise. 2G, Coalgate …

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, we haven’t much time. Please answer the question.

Rahul: What question?

Arnab: Who was Q?

Rahul: Yes, he was a family friend. So?

Arnab: Did he receive kickbacks from Bofors AG?

Rahul: I …

Arnab: What was his relationship with you father Mr Rajiv Gandhi?

Rahul: Look …

Arnab: How did this simple unassuming middleman for the company Snamprogetti suddenly win more than 50 contracts in an era when foreign companies were a no-no? What is AE Services?

Rahul: You …

Arnab: It was his company, wasn’t it? A company with no employees and a paid up capital of 100 liras.

Rahul: I …

Arnab: He was a family friend, you say. And he received kickbacks. How does that reflect on you, your family?

Rahul: He never.

Arnab: Never what?

Rahul: He never received kickbacks.

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, are you aware that it was proven beyond doubt that his company received money from Bofors AG? This is not drawing room gossip, Mr Gandhi. Q received 3% kickbacks for the Bofors deal.

Rahul: So?

Arnab: So I want to ask you again. Who was Q? Why was he close to your family? Why did you let him get away?

Rahul: You should ask that to the BJP as well.

Arnab: Don’t you worry, Mr Gandhi, I will. I will ask Mr Advani about the alleged quid pro quo – of course, I will.

Rahul: Good.

Arnab: But right now I have you in front of me. So let me ask you again.

Rahul: No you may not.

Arnab: Sorry, didn’t hear you …

Rahul: I said, you may not … if you want this interview to carry on.

Arnab: Yes, of course, I want it to carry on …

Rahul: Good. So let me ask you something. Why is it that whenever we talk of crippling poverty and economic models for development …

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, you didn’t let me finish. I said, I want this interview to carry on, but ultimately it is your choice whether you want it to carry on … So, now … please tell me what the relationship between Quattrocchi and your father was.

Rahul: Do you want me to call off this interview?

Arnab: And why would you do that?

Rahul: Because you keep asking me irrelevant questions.

Arnab: They are not irrelevant, Mr Gandhi. They may appear irrelevant because every Indian journalist who has ever, and I mean ever, interviewed you or your sister or your mother, has never ever, never, ever, never, never, ever asked you these questions.

Rahul: I think we are done here.

Arnab: Who was Q, Mr Gandhi? Why did he take kickbacks from Bofors?

Rahul: Mr Goswami, there’s a limit.

Arnab: Why did your family protect Q? Why and how did he get away?

Rahul: Bas … enough … [gets up] … dosti bani rahe …

Arnab: All that is fine … but who is Q?

Rahul: [Detaches the mic and leaves the room.]

Arnab: … [shouts after him] … Thank you, Mr Gandhi … [Stares blankly at the Husain opposite].

Post-interview panel discussion:

Arnab: Vinod Mehta – welcome to the debate. First question coming to you, Siddharth Varadarajan, welcome as well, Vinod – your first comments.

Vinod: Arnab, I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but I didn’t like the interview at all.

Arnab: Sorry, what, Vinod?

Vinod: I mean, Arnab, you asked him every irrelevant question you could think of! I mean, this is preposterous! It really is. You disappointed me, Arnab, you really did. The whole nation wanted to hear about Rahul’s grand idea of India, and here you were, bothering him with ridiculous questions …

Arnab: Alright, the debate is heating up … as we slip into a short break … don’t go anywhere, ladies and gentlemen … – News Laundry, 28 January 2014

Anand RanganathanAnand Ranganathan is the author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet. He studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. He can be reached at anand.icgeb@gmail.com or on Twitter @ARangarajan1972

See also

Ask Rahul Baba a question!

South Asian secularism embraces Islamism – Tufail Ahmad

Tufail Ahmad“‘From barbarism to civilisation requires a century; from civilisation to barbarism needs but a day,” observed Will Durant, the American historian celebrated for his magnum opus The Story of Civilisation. Just coming out of General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, Pakistan began sinking into barbarism, notwithstanding the judgement of the adult Pakistanis who had just voted … secular parties to govern them for a brighter, democratic future. … The bigger challenge … is how to rescue South Asian secularism from its amorous embrace of Islamism” – Tufail Ahmad

Maulana FazlullahIn South Asia, Islamist forces emerge out of the womb of secularism, or the practice and politics of it. In 2008, secular leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party and Awami National Party, which came to power in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province through elections that year, signed an agreement with the Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah for implementation of Islamic sharia rule in the Swat region. By early 2009, with the complicity of the secular leaders the Taliban were enforcing sharia code in the region, burning music CDs and DVDs, ordering barbers not to shave beards, preventing women from visiting bazaars and setting up sharia courts until they also ordered a total ban on female education—forcing the international community to take note of the modern-day barbarism, just hundred miles from Islamabad.

“From barbarism to civilisation requires a century; from civilisation to barbarism needs but a day,” observed Will Durant, the American historian celebrated for his magnum opus The Story of Civilisation. Just coming out of General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, Pakistan began sinking into barbarism, notwithstanding the judgment of the adult Pakistanis who had just voted these secular parties to govern them for a brighter, democratic future. As the jihadists were enforcing the total ban on female education, young girls like Malala Yousafzai, 11 years old then, felt the world shutting around them. Malala, who had already been in the vortex of local education movement led by her father, wrote an anonymous online diary, describing her feelings about the jihadists in her neighbourhood.

M.A. JinnahBefore reading what happened next, here is a brief history of the secular version of Islamism in the Indian subcontinent. During the 1940s, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a thoroughly secular Muslim who drank wine and ate pork, steered a movement for Pakistan in the name of Islam. In 1974, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a secular leader, gave an altogether new power to Pakistani parliamentarians to legislate who should be called Muslim and who a minority, a negative term for Hindus and Christians in Pakistan. That year, Ahmadi Muslims were constitutionally declared non-Muslims on the watch of Bhutto, whose secular daughter Benazir would later facilitate the Taliban’s rise in the 1990s.

In the 1980s, secular politician Syed Shahabuddin demanded a ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and was granted his wish by the Rajiv Gandhi government, unleashing Islamist and Hindutva forces, who had been strengthening since 1986 when the same government surrendered before the fundamentalists in the Shah Bano case. The surrender would subsequently lead to the demolition of the Babri mosque and Gujarat riots of 2002. In present times, secular Congress leader Salman Khurshid advocates reservation in jobs and education in the name of Islam. Nearby, Imran Khan, also a secular leader, has emerged as the Taliban’s political ally.

Malala YousafzaiConsequences of such secular-Islamist politics can always be foretold, as can be seen from the damages from the actions of Jinnah, Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto, Syed Shahabuddin (and Rajiv Gandhi), and the secular leaders of Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party in the case of the Swat Taliban.

On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban for her diary written three years ago, airlifted to England for medical treatment and became a celebrity, eliciting prayers of support from teenagers around the world. Girls and boys in Pakistan, where children do not often hear positive stories, adored her; she was celebrated on Pakistani television channels as the nation’s daughter, having earned international awards and met with world leaders, including UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.

Will Durant also wrote: “Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.” The Islamist forces were isolated in the face of Malala’s popularity in Pakistan. Soon after her book I am Malala, an autobiographical story told by her and written by journalist Christina Lamb, was published in October 2013, Islamist commentators and columnists launched a movement to discredit Malala in Pakistani eyes.

The Satanic VersesThree influential commentators warrant mention: Zaid Hamid, who advocates jihad against India; Maqbool Orya Jan, an Urdu columnist peddling Islamism on television; Ansar Abbasi, an editor known for authoring conspiracy theories against the West. Zaid Hamid accuses Malala of being used by the West against Islam, Pakistan and Muslims. Orya Jan attacks her for not denouncing The Satanic Verses and writing, “My father also saw the book as offensive to Islam but believes strongly in freedom of speech.” Abbasi goes a step further, literally haranguing liberal debaters by asking them religiously sensitive questions on television channels such as: Do you personally think that Ahmadis are Muslims, or that the words “peace be upon him” should accompany Prophet Muhammad’s name. They are also questioning how the now 16-year-old Malala could write this book, while they teach Pakistani children that 17-year-old Islamic conqueror Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sindh in 712 AD, launching Islamic rule in India.

Malala is criticised because her father wore black armbands on the 50th anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence Day, saying that Swat had suffered since its merger with Pakistan in 1969. There is nothing blasphemous in the book. The Islamists are attacking her for trivial points: for writing Jinnah instead of Quaid-e-Azam, or great leader; for not writing “peace be upon you” with Prophet Muhammad’s name, not a norm in English.

I am MalalaThe book is an absorbing memoir and should be on the reading list of all teenagers in India for the following reasons: Malala upholds an idea of freedom against the forces of darkness in South Asia; she is a role model for girls in Pakistan and India; she stands against forces which are inimical to democracy; her story, still unfolding, is the story of civilisation and illustrates how misguided actions of secular leaders could unleash barbarism in our societies. The bigger challenge, maybe for the courts, is how to rescue South Asian secularism from its amorous embrace of Islamism. – The New Indian Express, 28 November 2013

» Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. Mail: tufailelif@yahoo.co.uk

The Gandhis need to come clean on their wealth – Saisuresh Sivaswamy

Rahul, Sonia, Robert & Priyanka.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy“In the world’s largest democracy, the voters have no clue about the wealth of their netas, not just the Gandhis. But the latter stand out, one, because they occupy the centre-stage of Indian politics, and, two, by deed and inference they seem to suggest that their brand of politics is different from the discredited version that we see play out on our television screens day after day, night after night.” – Saisuresh Sivaswamy

Sonia Gandhi as DurgaThrough the weekend the social media was abuzz with talk of Sonia Gandhi’s net worth being higher than that of Queen Elizabeth II. The reason for the online chatter: A feature by the credible and creditable Huffington Post on the wealth of world leaders, which rated Gandhi higher than the British monarch in the pecking order.

HuffPost was not the first to make such a claim, but like with previous such listings by other news publications that either met with a stodgy silence from the ruling family of India or a redaction, HuffPost has since clarified:

Editor’s Note: Sonia Gandhi and the former emir of Qatar Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani have been removed from this list. Gandhi was originally included based on a listing on a third-party site which was subsequently called into question. Our editors have been unable to verify the amount, removed the link, and regret any confusion….

But in this note lies a story. Which is that in the world’s largest democracy, the voters have no clue about the wealth of their netas, not just the Gandhis. But the latter stand out, one, because they occupy the centre-stage of Indian politics, and, two, by deed and inference they seem to suggest that their brand of politics is different from the discredited version that we see play out on our television screens day after day, night after night.

But for a matriarch who, it was claimed, was the piloting force behind the revolutionary Right to Information Act which removed the veils of secrecy surrounding the government, she and her offspring, not to mention extended family, like the rest of their political ilk, have been chary of disclosing their wealth to the nation.

As none of the Gandhis are members of the Union Council of Ministers, they are not required to submit updated details of their wealth to the Prime Minister’s Office. Thus, the only details of their wealth is from candidate affidavits for the 2009 election, going by which Mrs Gandhi can never rank higher than the British queen, unless the latter has fallen on really really bad times.

For these are her details: Cash of Rs 75,000; Rs 28,61,660.89 in a bank account with UCO Bank; Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million) in mutual funds; RBI bonds for Rs 12 lakh (Rs 1.2 million); 10 shares of Maruti Technical Services Pvt Ltd (unquoted); 500 shares of Western India Tanneries Ltd; NSS  Rs 199,380; PPF with interesting amounting to Rs 24,88,887.39; jewellery (presumably gold) of 2518.450 gms worth Rs 11,08,100 in 2008; silverware of a whopping 88 kg valued five years ago at Rs 18,37,440.

Rahul & Priyanka campaigning in Sultanpur, UPMore interesting are the details of immovable properties owned by her. The 2009 affidavit says she owns three bighas of land in village Dera Mandi and 12 bighas in village Sultanpur, valued at Rs 219,300. Then there is an ancestral property in Italy, valued at Rs 18.05 lakhs (Rs 1.80 million).

But, but, but … the important point here is that either the valuation is at face value, like with mutual funds, RBI bonds etc, or market value as on March 31, 2008. If she was a Union minister, we would have known the current market value of every bit of investment and property she owns.

Even this, it seems, is not a very popular move among our ministers, for as of the morning of December 3, 13 ministers are yet to submit their asset details, three months after the deadline expired.

And here is the clincher: The Indian Express points out that a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in the 2008 Delhi assembly election had declared his landholding similar to what Sonia Gandhi holds in village Dera to be worth Rs 18.37 crore (Rs 183.7 million)!

According to a Supreme Court ruling, candidates contesting elections are required to announce the value of their assets, but this seems to be something observed more in breach, most of them preferring to either not mention current details or take shelter behind outdated valuations.

Robert Vadra: Not a mango person!When you think about it, rather than hiding behind legalities, verbal obfuscation and such, the HuffPost report could have been an opportunity for the Gandhi family, including the son-in-law about whose real estate dealings so much has been said and written, to tell the nation just how much they are worth.

The Gandhis, for all their claims, you realise, never ever address the media or the nation. What we hear from them is second-hand information, attributed to ‘sources close to the family’, and even this information is presented to show the family in a good light (like how Sonia wanted the Food Security Bill passed despite being admitted to hospital during the vote) etc, never what the nation wants to know (and one is not talking of a television show here).

Even their reluctance to accept an office of power, you realise, could be tied to their reluctance to come clean about themselves, their wealth.

Could this reluctance be tied to the family’s projection of themselves as the last bastion of the aam-aadmi‘s [mango people’s] interests?

Do they fear that a full disclosure of their not-inconsiderable assets would go against their carefully-cultivated pro-poor image?

In the absence of any word from any of them, all one can do is speculate. And add to the not-too-flattering buzz on the social media about them. Even on this medium, you realise, the family has been loath to engage, leaving their frontline defence to party loyalists.

Which is a real tragedy. For the India that reposed its faith in the Gandhi mystique in 2004, and followed it up again in 2009, is not the same nation that will go to the polls next year.

It is a changed India, impatient India, questioning India — and the UPA headed by Mrs Gandhi being the primary agent of this change.

RTI LogoIt is this India that seeks, needs and wants a clarification from the first family about itself. Debunking it would be disowning the very change they have wrought.

And in the absence of disclosures from them, there will always be a miasma of doubt over their sincerity towards a new and clean brand of politics. – Rediff.com, 3 December 2013

Rajiv Gandhi Swiss Bank Account

Ottavio Quattrocchi: The Italian who stained three Indian prime ministers – M. D. Nalapat

Ottavio Quattrocchi and the people he stained.

M.D. Nalapat“The upright PM Manmohan Singh now seeks to roll back the Right to Information Act so as to make it more rather than less difficult for ordinary citizens to access information about state shenanigans. Honesty is of zero value to the citizen unless the PM can enforce it across his government, a task that Manmohan Singh has failed to do.” – Prof. M.D. Nalapat

Ottavio QuattrocchiLast week, Ottavio Quattrocchi, who for decades was in India as the representative of Italy’s Snam Progetti industrial conglomerate, passed away. He was very successful in winning contract after contract for the company from the 1970s onwards, especially in the state-controlled fertiliser industry. When Quattrocchi entered a government office, even Secretaries to Government used to quake in their boots, aware that the Italian could either boost or damage their careers. Those who helped him get juicy contracts got promoted while the few who opposed the many concessions given to Snam and other Italian companies suffered.

Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria being from Italy, and in Delhi at a time when there were few from that country resident in that city, it was not surprising that Rajiv Gandhi’s Italian wife Sonia got to know them, or that the two families became close to each other socially. In India, anything connected with the Nehru family is covered by a veil of secrecy maintained by successive governments, so there are few records of the contact between Indira Gandhi’s son and daughter-in-law with Quattrocchi and his wife Maria.

Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors gun.These days, those close to the presiding matriarch of the Nehru family, Sonia Gandhi, claim that neither she nor Rajiv was in any way close to the Quattrocchis. That the Italian and his wife were just acquaintances. They deny reports that Ottavio, Rajiv, Maria and Sonia met frequently in India, the UK and Italy, and that their families went on holidays together. If it was not his closeness to Rajiv and Sonia, it must have been his magnetic personality that worked such miracles for Ottavio Quattrocchi, enabling him to get file after file cleared so that his principals landed juicy contracts. Although a stranger to the defense trade, Mr Q was chosen by Bofors to be a commission agent in the howitzer deal that company had with the Government of India, a deal that netted him millions of dollars in commission. What he did was obscure, but Bofors landed the contract, to the anger of the French competitors.

Ottavio Quattrocchi & Maria QuattrocchiThat French companies are masters in information and disinformation in furtherance of their commercial interests is known to every serious analyst in India, and it was not long before items began to appear in the international and the national press about alleged kickbacks being paid to top politicians and officials in India to grab the contract. If this were true, it would hardly be a surprise. Bribes are the norm rather than the exception in government contracts in India, especially those involving large sums of money, such as defense or energy deals. Indeed, there are credible sources who claim that a percentage of every dollar that is paid by certain companies for importing crude oil into India gets transferred to secret bank accounts operated by nominees of a powerful political family in the country. However, an examination of the tax returns filed by the members of this family shows that their annual Sonia Gandhi & Ottavio Quattrocchiincome is less than the cost of a month’s foreign travel by them, in a context where some members of the family travel abroad on an average of twenty-seven times each year. Of course, no details of such travel (and the places of stay) to Dubai, London, New York and Bangkok are ever furnished by any government in India. Politicians in the country are unlike those in Pakistan, who go after each other. Here, they each protect the other while publicly professing to expose them.

Manmohan Singh, who is known to be personally honest in a government steeped in bribery, is no exception. Indeed, the upright PM now seeks to roll back the Right to Information Act so as to make it more rather than less difficult for ordinary citizens to access information about state shenanigans. Honesty is of zero value to the citizen unless the PM can enforce it across his government, a task that Manmohan Singh has failed to do.

Ottavio's financer son Massimo and Rahul Gandhi grew up together.Coming to Ottavio Quattrocchi and his mysterious power over successive Prime Ministers of India, perhaps owing to the natural charm that is present in most Italians, on July 29,1993 then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao personally intervened to enable Quattrocchi to flee the country despite being a subject of enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This columnist knew the Prime Minister (and let it be confessed, admired him in many respects), and he spoke to him about Mr Q, pointing out that it would be wrong to allow a man considered to be at the heart of illicit deal-making in India to leave Delhi for London en route to Milan. The Prime Minister mentioned that a powerful politician had sent a lady Minister of State to meet him with the promise that (the politician) “would forever be an ardent backer” of Mr Rao, should he allow Mr Q to escape. The PM had made up his mind.

CBI HQ New DelhiFlash forward ten years, to the period when BJP stalwart A. B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister. A court in Malaysia was hearing the extradition request of the Central Bureau of Investigation (an agency more political in its functioning than any political party). While the hearing was going on, this columnist was having lunch in Bangalore’s West End hotel with a high official from Malaysia, there to visit a friend. When he spoke about Mr Q finally being forced to come back to India, the high official laughed. “Do you know that Quattrocchi’s lawyers are preparing the briefs for the other side? That they are in close touch with each other? There is no chance that he will lose the case”. The official went on to allege that Mr Q was boasting that Prime Minister Vajpayee himself had sent a private assurance that “no harm would be allowed to come to him”. Hopefully, the Malaysian official was either not telling the truth or had been the victim of rumours. To believe that Vajpayee or his Law Ministry would so subvert the course of justice so as to save Quatrocchi strains credulity. However, clearly the CBI lawyers botched up their case, for evidence that had been found compelling by a Swiss court was rejected by the Malaysian judge. By 2003, Quatrocchi was able The Qongress Partyto leave Malaysia, a free man. Had he brought back Ottavio Quattrocchi, Prime Minister Vajpayee would have been a hero to civil society in India. Instead, many began to believe that Mr Q had been deliberately let off, whatever be the truth or otherwise behind such a perception. The whiff of impropriety that wafted over Team Vajpayee led to the BJP’s defeat the next year, at the hands of the Congress Party. Mr Q had felled yet another politician. – Pakistan Observer, 19 July 2013

» Professor Madhav Das Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University in Manipal, Karnataka, India.

Amitabha Pande

Chitra Subramaniam Duella and Indian ambassador to Switzerland  K.P. Balakrishnan

Chitra Subramaniam, investigative journalist who broke the Bofors story in 1987, and Indian ambassador to Switzerland K.P. Balakrishnan with a sealed box of secret documents from Swiss banks that were being sent to the Government of India. Where are these documents now? Read Chitra’s story on News Laundry here.

See also