Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Delhi, 1987: A date with Velupillai Prabhakaran

New Delhi, 1987: A date with Velupillai Prabhakaran
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The year was 1987; I was in JNU where early on the breakfast table there use to be quite heated discussion on the Sri Lankan issue. My friends from Tamil Nadu use to provide perspective to the Sri Lankan problem.

It was during one of those discussions on the breakfast table that some of my Tamil friends told that entire top brass of the LTTE including its leader Velupillai Prabhkaran was in New Delhi. They were planning to go to hotel Samarat where the LTTE leadership was put up and invited me to join them if I was interested to know more about the Sri Lankan affairs.

Frankly, at that time I had little knowledge about the Sri Lankan problem. The only thing I knew by then was there were communal riots in Colombo between Sinhalese and Tamils in 1983 and that had triggered the Tamil secessionist movement in Sri Lanka.

I asked my friend about Prabhakran, what does he stands for? Why he was called in New Delhi and who has called him? I was told how daringly Prabhakaran had led the secessionist movement and has emerged as the undisputed leader of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It’s because of his high profile the LTTE chief was flown to New Delhi for an important meeting with the Indian leadership and was the state guest of India..

My friends told me to join them in bus # 615 and would explain me on the way the other details about the LTTE. During that bus ride from the JNU to Chaknaykypuri and then a short walk to the hotel Samarat, I learnt quite a few lessons on Sri Lanka.

We entered the hotel premises with security forces watching us. I realize they had little knowledge about the Sri Lankan developments and were doing their duty. We showed our students ID card and were let into the main entrance hall of the newly built hotel.

We sat in the lobby, waiting for the LTTE leaders to descend from some where so that we can catch their glimpse and say hello to them. We had no other access to the visitors and did not know what to do next; we just talked about the LTTE and waited and waited. I asked my friends; besides Prabhakran who else are there and how could we recognize them. A few Tamil names were dropped to me and my friend said they can be recognized from a distance as all will be wearing cyanide capsule hanging on their neck.

This was turning out to be an encounter of a rare kind. I became curious to know more about all these LTTE characters and decided to stay on there for some time. I realized quite late that none of my friends knew any one among the LTTE and were just there to catch their glimpse.

As no one turned up there that looked liked the LTTE, the outing was turning out to be a bit boring and so I got myself excused, leaving some diehard LTTE fans still waiting there.

Later, I learnt that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran had one to one meeting. In that meeting the LTTE supermo had agreed to surrender arms in lieu of a greater share in administration in north and east provinces of Sri Lanka. New Delhi had agreed financially support the LTTE. Later the LTTE entourage was flown back to Jaffna after this agreement was reached.
It was only after the assurance from the LTTE India on 4 June 1987 conducted Eagle Mission 4 or Operation Poomalai and its Air Force airdropped supplies to the Tamils besieged in town of Jaffna besides deterring the Sri Lankan army not to advance any further.

The Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi then went ahead to sign the Indian- Sri Lankan peace accord with Sri Lakan President JR Jayawardene. Even as the ink on the accord had not dried and the Indian Prime Minister was receiving the guard of honor, a Sri Lankan guard menacingly pounced on him with his rifle butt. Rajiv Gandhi was lucky to escape that murderous assault but the incident reflected the Sinhalese resentment against Indian intervention in Sri Lanka.

As part of the India Sri Lanka peace accord, Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka to protect the Tamils and to help them create their homeland. The IPKF was baffled to find that those whom they had come to protect has turned out to become its adversaries and did not want them at all. With their hands tied, the IPKF had to perform the most difficult task of peace keeping in Sri Lanka.

It took a while for India to realize that the LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhkaran had backtracked from his promises made in New Delhi. He had preferred the friendship of Sinhalese leadership then to India. Indian involvement in Sri Lanka was nothing less than a nightmare.

The LTTE’s resentment against India did not stop with the withdrawal of the IPKF from Sri Lanka. They went ahead to assassinate the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They never came up with an explanation why they did so? Did Rajiv Gandhi not honor the commitment made to LTTE in New Delhi? So far no one has come up with any explanations on these lines and now when there is no one to do so this chapter looks to be closed once and for all.

The concluding days of Elam war IV, in mid May 2009, was one of the greatest dramas that unfolded on the South Asian scene in the recent times. One wonders, whether the LTTE leadership, when on its last leg, while holed up in the narrow coastal strip of Mullaithevu district, keeping lakhs of Tamil people hostage on the gun point and using them as cover, wanted Indian to intervene in Sri Lanka again?

Again there is none left among the LTTE to tell about the remains of other day. What a pathetic end to the Tigers that once commanded awe and admiration in the whole world for their brutal ways and means.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sri Lanka - Is the Spring Far Away?

Sri Lanka - Is the Spring Far Away?
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The ethnic war in Sri Lanka has drawn to a close in terms of military operations after the liquidation of the LTTE’s military machine and the killing of its entire top brass, including the indomitable Velupillai Prabhakaran.

However, the end of the war that has come after a long protracted battle beginning since 2006 is fraught with serious humanitarian and political questions. The most important issue is what will be the relationship between rehabilitation, reconstruction, development and democracy in Sri Lanka.

The first and foremost priority of the Sri Lankan government is to address the issue of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. Those people who have been living in the make shift camps. Those who have fled the war zone and are living elsewhere in the country, this includes thousands of Muslims who had been purged by the LTTE from Northern provinces some while ago. There is also the issue of large number of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who have been sheltering in India and are living in camps spread across Tamil Nadu and Orissa.

The rehabilitation of such people requires reconstruction of their homes development of their locality and providing them basic amenities so that they can start their life afresh. This has to be done on the war footing same as the way Sri Lankan government has taken upon itself the job to dismantle the fountainhead of terrorism from the island state.

In the context of rehabilitation, reconstruction, development how the human rights situation is going to be addressed is also something that is being closely watched. The Sinhala Buddhists magnanimity is at test and how far they can go to accommodate their fellow Tamil countrymen remains to be seen.

There are reports from the eastern provinces that was liberated earlier that the some Buddhist monks are establishing their temple in every village. Their increased religious activity is giving the impression the places librated from the clutches of the LTTE are now become Buddhist colony. The construction of Buddhist temple is a mark of authority of the victor over the vanquished.

Some unconfirmed reports even say that in the name of alms, the men clad in saffron are collecting Jazzia from the Hindu and Muslim population in the so called librated zone for their protection and security. If this is true, this raises the serious doubts about the sincerity of the Sinhalese people towards granting equal human rights to the Tamil population.

Now when the armed conflict is over in Sri Lanka, the international community and the government of Sri Lankan should focus on the root cause of the three decade long ethnic strife and find ways and means to the political solution in that country.

What kind of political process that’s likely to be thrown up in Sri Lanka that is something closely being watched. The fear is Sri Lanka may emulate the Indian model of Jammu and Kashmir that’s administrated by the bayonet of the gun with a fa├žade of democracy set up on fear and coercion. If that is so, one can hardly expect a real solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka.

Now when the LTTE is marginalized it remains to be seen how far the political solution will go. There are too many solutions on the table including the India- Sri Lanka accord of 1987. Also there are many Tamil political parties who can take the lead in the negotiations. Will they bring about an honorable political settlement for the Tamils in Sri Lanka?

One has to realize that democracy cannot flourish under the shadow of the guns. Militarization and democracy cannot go hand in hand. If the genuine democracy is to be established in northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka then the entire space has to be demilitarized. Will the Sri Lankan government agree to it is something that has to be watched.

The ideal situation would be that paramilitary and police force should take charge of maintaining law and order and the instill confidence among the people living there that they are safe and secure.

In the interim period, a roadmap needs to be developed that may clearly spell out the transitional process of establishing democracy in the war ravaged territories of Sri Lanka. It should be made the edifice on which the future solution of the Tamil problem should rest. So for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka a great deal of thought is required in chalking out a roadmap towards the political solution of the Tamil problem and establishment of democracy in Sri Lanka.

In this context, the role Tamil Diaspora spread across the globe is very important. So far they have been funding the war machine of the LTTE with the hope that it would establish a Tamil homeland. Now since its protagonists are consigned to the pages of history and Elam idea has become a distant dream, the Tamil Diaspora have to reconcile with the new reality. Harboring the ambition for the return to armed conflict would rally be detrimental to the peace process and democratic way of life.

The Tamil Diaspora should adopt a conciliatory tone and pressurize the governments where they are settled to get involved in the rehabilitation, reconstruction, development and bring in a just and democratic political settlement.

The chill wind has started blowing, if that’s the sign of the winter, is the spring far away? The new dawn in Sri Lanka in post LTTE phase suggests that the Tamil and the Sinhalese people need to work out a modicum of relationship to live together in peace and harmony. Will they do so? Well we have to wait and watch Sri Lanka, how this story pans out.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meeting Cat Stevens now known as Yusuf Islam

Meeting Cat Stevens now known as Yusuf Islam
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I am tempted to write this after reading the write-up; “Yusuf Islam plays first LA show in 33 years.” Check this link for the story.


Well I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens center in London. That was in 1994 when I went to England on government of India’s field grant to further pursue my doctoral research. I was living in Colliers High road next to Sainsbury supermarket in South London.

One of my friends also doing research and who use to meet me at the School of Oriental and African studies invited me for a ‘Zikr’ one Sunday evening at the Islamic center Kilburn. I was bit late that day but I caught speaker saying why and how he converted to Islam.

I remember he was saying it all happened during a swimming session was in Australia. I was swimming in a secluded beach and was caught up in a storm and whirlpool and thought it was the end of his life; the speaker said adding I looked up at the skies and prayed to be saved and promised to devote my life in service of the Lord.

Miracle does happen and at that point of time the tide that caught me threw me on the shore and I was fortunate to be alive and since that day I started looking for a faith, he said.

It took him long to decide choosing my new faith and finally when I was convinced about the Islamic faith, I underwent the process of ‘Sahada’ and then announce the change of my heart.

The meeting was organized on the carpeted floor of the Islamic centre. There will be about 25 – 30 people gathered there. Somehow I was able to move from the back to the front row and eventually I sat next to the speaker who was saying I had tough time in choosing my new name.

Finally among list of choices, I settled with the name Yusuf Islam, he said. Frankly at that point of time I had no clue about Yusuf Islam and did not know who Cat Stevens was.

Yusuf Islam looked to me a big Maulana, a turban headed white man and I thought he could be Muslim priest from Turkey or Arabia. I was surprised the way he was speaking English, he sounded like a white sahib.

There were some other surprises in store for me. In that gathering, I found many white ladies weaning ‘hijab’ and sitting there. It was my first brush with Islam outside India and I was surprised seeing a bunch of white ladies in Islamic attire. Since then I had to reformulate my entire conception that I was having about the white ladies.

The speaker was saying he had further problem in choosing his attire. How should I look was the big question to me, he said. After looking at the getup of Islamic believers from across the world, I finally decided to give myself the Afghan look. The beard and the turban suited me well, he said.

After the speech there was the ‘Dua,’ and there was time to exchange pleasantries. Since I was sitting next to the speaker, I had the opportunity to shake hands with Yusuf Islam at the earliest. I saw after shaking hands with me he touched his chest and addressed me as brother as he asked which country I come from?

I told him India and hearing it could see the chuckle on his face hidden by graying beard. In flash seconds, a stream of thoughts descended and vanished on his face.

He asked what I am doing in London. I told him I am there researching on the theme the demand for partition of India and the British policy 1940-45. He wished me best of luck. I remember telling me fi aman Allah, the Islamic way of saying Goodbye.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tamil Nadu not bereft of tainted candidates

Tamil Nadu not bereft of tainted candidates
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Chennai May 12, 2009: There are considerable percentage of candidate in Tamil Nadu that have criminal charges according to a report released by Tamil Nadu Election Watch (TNEW), a voluntary organization that screened the profiles of the candidates contesting the 15th Lok Sabha election from this southern Indian state.

The report reveals that 33 candidates belonging to major political parties have criminal charges. Vellore and Ramanathapuram is termed as 'red alert constituencies' as both have five and three candidates respectively who had criminal backgrounds.

After the perusal of the 378 affidavits it was found that 33 candidates had criminal charges 14 of them serious in nature, said Kris G Dev releasing the TNEW report on Monday, May 11, 2009.

One candidate from Tiruvannamalai had 11 cases that include attempt to murder, causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means and promoting enmity between different groups, Dev pointed out.

Tamil Nadu’s Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta had earlier announced that all affidavits of the candidates would be hosted on the commission’s website but it never happened and many leading candidates’ affidavits were missing, Dev said.

There are actually 822 candidates in the fray in Tamil Nadu but TNEW could get the affidavits of only 378 candidates.

The TNEW organizer lamented about the hardship they had to face getting record of the assets and criminal charges against some of the candidates. In many offices, we were asked to pay Rs. 20 to get copies of the affidavits.

According to the TNEW report there are 63 crorepatis (milliners) contesting the parliamentary elections from Tamil Nadu.

The TNEW acknowledged the voluntary support it received from a number of NGOs, volunteers, research scholars and students from various institutions who came forward to support the data entry and compiling activity.

The purpose of this report is to make public the past record of the candidates and to enlighten them about the assets, liabilities and criminal background of the candidates. Tamil Nadu goes to poll on Wednesday May 13, 2009.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@ yahoo.com

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Voice over the Bridge" - a taste of Burmese music

"Voice over the Bridge" - a taste of Burmese music
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Chennai - EarthSync, a Chennai-based world music label, has just released its latest production, “Voice over the Bridge”, an album that interweaves Burma's classical music and contemporary western music.

The album also brings to the fore singers Khin Zin Shwe and Shwe Shwe Khaing, who worked with Earthsync’s Laya Project. Their voices bring to life the praises for kings from 13th century Burma.

The 55 kings in Burmese history were praised through music composed and performed by court musicians. These ancient songs and music traditions are documented in the Maha Gita, which can be traced back to the ancient city of Mandalay, the fountainhead of Burmese artistic and theosophical culture.

The EarthSync team has recorded and brought these songs out of the boundaries of Burma to a worldwide audience into the album "Voice over the Bridge."

Songs featured on the album include Rain Song, Ataing Mathy Blue, Nitoon Yanka, Mandalabon, Glorius Sun, SanWay and Thida.

The songs are traditional Burmese, music for the album has been composed by Patrick Sebag, and the mixing and mastering has been done by Yotam Agam at the Clementine Studios, Chennai.

“Khin Zin Shwe and Shwe Shwe Khaing have been performing together for many years. They also perform at monasteries and at weddings where traditional songs from the Maha Gita are sung. Through their performances of the Maha Gita, Shwe Shwe Khaing and Khin Zin Shwe they have committed themselves to nurturing their ancient Burmese classical music traditions,” says Shirley Abraham, of Earth Sync talking exclusively to Mizzima.

"The album "Voice over the Bridge" strikes a deep emotional chord in all listeners regardless of cultural backgrounds. We have no doubt that the album will be received very well. It’s available in CDs for Rs. 400 at all leading music outlets in India,” she adds.

EarthSync is a world music record label based in Chennai. A label that is committed to nurturing folk, tribal and native music, their passion of cultures, music and sound often takes them to little-known lands and their music.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com - This report appeared at:http://mizzima.com/news/regional/2094-qvoice-over-the-bridgeq-a-taste-of-burmese-music.html