Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jaswant Singh saga would haunt for long

Jaswant Singh saga would haunt for long
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Jaswant Singh’s book 'Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence' that interprets events leading to India’s independence and Partition differently than the official NCERT version has triggered a huge debate in the country.

The book praises Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and calls him a secular Indian. This is contrary to the popular in the country that holds Jinnah solely responsible for the Partition of India, The book equally holds Congress leaders Sardar Valbhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru responsible for India’s Partition. The 71-year-old ex officer in Indian Army also asserts in his book that Indian Muslims are treated as ‘aliens,’ in the country, a fact unacceptable to many Indians.

The Bhartya Janata Party, to which the author belonged as member for three decades, called his formulations ‘hearsay’ that went against the core ideology of the party and expelled Singh from its primary membership. The Gujarat Chief Minister Nrander Modi took this matter a step further and banned his book in this BJP ruled state, after burning some of its copies.

All this has once again opened the Pandora box of the debate that has been in circulation for time now in India. The issues involved are tolerance towards academic freedom, plurality of thought, breaking the stereotypes, the guts to circulate new ideas and so on and so forth.

Its not long ago, this debate ranted the air when a section of Muslim community protested Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, Taslima Nasreen’s controversial writings and caricature cartoon of Prophet Mohammad by a Danish newspaper.

A large number of liberal and enlightened souls in the country rebuked at those whose beliefs were sullied by irreverence of some adventurers. They called the protestors; bigots, reactionaries, non liberal, non tolerant people belonging to a particular community.

In this bandwagon were a large number of Saffron activists that took a pot shot against the believers of Islamic faith and sided with the liberals who were beating their chest at the murder of freedom of expression.

In an ironical twist of tale, Jaswant Singh’s book has turned the tables against those ‘kettles’ who called the ‘pot black’. There was hardly any distinction between the two and behaved in the same fashion when it came to negotiate with any plurality of thought. However, the former could get away with their protest under the nationalist cloak, the later could never remove the stigma of being religious bigots.

Let’s leave this matter and come to point, what does Jaswant Singh’s book try to signify? The most important message he tries to convey goes beyond the demolishing many stereotypes in circulation for long in India.

One of it is that he denounces demonizing Jinah, and calls it a conspiracy hatched by Nehru and Patel to put the entire blame on Muslims for Partition of India. This is so as to project Muslims a hallucination for unifying the divergent Hindu society.

The Congress was successful in this venture and kept Muslims under psychological fear so that they would resign themselves to their subordinate status in Indian polity. It was the reason of this ugly legacy that political assertion by Muslims has always been construed as communalism.

The Congress experiment was so successful that different so-called political parties which emerged during the course of time including the BJP also deliberately followed this experiment so as to perpetuate this myth and reduced the status of Indian Muslims as mere vote bank.

Its impact was so pernicious that the whole concept of ‘secularism’ in India has come to revolve around Muslims communal identity, and the community has remained content with the false promises of ‘security’ and safety. For Muslims parties may come and go and they may rush from one to another, their fortune did not changed except for getting a few doles grants.

It is precisely for this Mr. Jaswant Singh deserves all the praise. He is the first political leader in India that too from the party of Muslim baiters, who has brought to the fore the grave reality of the alienation of Indian Muslims perpetuated since the Partition of the country. He deserves a special place in the annals of Indian political history.

Now lets divert the attention and compare BJP’s response to Jaswant Singh’s book with Varun Gandhi's hate speech against Muslims during the last Lok Sabha elections.

In case of Varun Gandhi, the BJP without associating with his speech backed him to the hilt and did not oppose him or accused him of disturbing communal peace in the country. Whereas in case of Jaswant Singh’s book that narrated some historical facts, the BJP members were up in arms and even without reading the content of the book, distanced with its author, who happen to be party member for 30 yrs and had served it with distinction.

While in BJP’s Ayodha plot, Varun Gandhi was not even a ‘Ram Biriksh’, Jaswant Singh, was hailed as ‘Hanuman’ of the party. Like the mythical ‘Hanuman,’ Singh had gone to Kandhar and save the lives of many innocent Indians held hostage by the terrorists in the high-jacked Indian Airlines plane. Yet when it came to evaluating the services of the two characters, the BJP leadership rejoiced at Vaun Gandhi’s speech, its blood boiled at Jaswant Singh’s book.

Singh who was one of the founding members of the BJP in 1980 was not even considered to give explanation nor was asked to go through the motion of trial by the party that swears by democracy. In his case the BJP simply donned the fascist mantel and summarily sacked from the primary membership of the party.

Why such special favors were bestowed to a rabble rouser and why a Muslim sympathizer was shown the door? It is because Varun Gandhi;s speech synced with the Muslim bashing ideology of the BJP, and the objective assessment of historical facts by Jaswant Singh was considered as against the core ideology of the party.

What does the BJP wanted to convey sacking Jaswant Singh? Does it mean that it is going to rule this country from Dashrath’s throne at Ayodhya, or its wants to alter the democratic framework of the country?

The people of India have given the mandate time and again not to alter the secular and democratic character of the country. Even the BJP’s strident campaign for Hindutva to alter the core characteristics could not gave it a majority to rule the country. This truthful reality of Indian politics has been conveyed through 15 parliamentary elections spread over a time frame of 60 years in the country.

Even while every Indian is convinced about the composite character of Indian politics, the aging BJP leadership does not seemed to be charmed by this point of view. They continue to believe of coming to power on the anti Muslim plank with the help of Hindu votes that constitute 80 per cent of the Indian population.

It seems these make believe world view is rattled by Jaswant Singh’s book 'Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence.' Jaswant Singh’s saga would definitely linger on and would haunt the Indian politics for time to come.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He is also author of the book “The Demand for India’s Partition.” He can be contacted at


Thursday, August 13, 2009

India asks Burma to expedite national reconciliation

India asks Burma to expedite national reconciliation
Syed Ali Mujtaba

India has asked the Burmese government to expedite its political reform. India’s reaction comes following the conviction of Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for 18 months of detention. Her last period of incarceration had expired at the end of May 2009.

Indian Foreign Ministry that has seen reports of the sentencing of the Burmese pro democracy leader called upon Burma to expedite political reform.

“India has always maintained that it wants Myanmar to expedite national reconciliation,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs in a statement.

"India has emphasized to the Government of Myanmar the need to expedite their political reform and national reconciliation process, and have noted the various steps taken so far, by the Government of Myanmar in this direction,” the MEA statement added.

"We have maintained that this process should be broad based, including the various ethnic groups. In this context, the issue of release of political prisoners will no doubt receive due attention," the MEA statement said.

Meanwhile, the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) in India along with the People's Politics Front (PPF – Lok Rajniti Manch) has also expressed its grave concern on the setback to democracy struggles in Burma.

"It is another big blow to democracy struggles in Burma" said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee (2002) and leader of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).

The NAPM and PPF leaders demanded release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other measures to ensure democratic processes strengthen and go forward in Myanmar.

The pro democracy leader of Burma Daw Aung Suu Kyi, was sentenced to three years jail and hard labor by a military court in Rangoon on Tuesday.

The court sentenced her on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest after a US national, John Yettaw, in May 2009, swam across her lakeside house to meet her, where she was then under house-arrest. She had, allegedly, allowed him in the house, for which both the US national and Aung San Suu Kyi were charged by the court now.

The US national John Yettaw, was sentenced for seven years, including four years of hard labor, while the pro democracy leader was sentenced of three years of jail and hard labour.

The court verdict on Aung San Suu kyi was commuted to 18 months of house arrest by General Than Shwe, Burma's top military ruler who intervened in the matter fearing global outrage.

However, even milder punishment did not stop global condemnation. The European Union has expressed to "respond with additional targeted measures against those responsible for the verdict."

Australia was quoted to consult the international community, including the Asian regional forum ASEAN, "on the need to put even more pressure on the Burmese regime to move down the path of democracy".

Similar statements of support for Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma came from United States of America (USA), Indonesia, Malaysia, United Kingdom (UK) and France.

India is one of the few countries along with China and Thailand that has trade ties with Burma too has called upon its neighboring country to speed up political reforms and national reconciliation process.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Burmese siren sizzles in Bollywood movies

Burmese siren sizzles in Bollywood movies
Syed Ali Mujaba

Bollywood fans are in for a delight to watch a hot babe in “Kool Nahi Hot Hai Hum” released last November. Called Laila Khan, this chink beauty has made her presence felt in the over crowded Hindi film industry.

Curiosity since then has been building up among the Hindi moviegoers to know more about this new Bollywood siren. Speculation were rife, the new import into Hindi cinema could be a ‘desi stuff’ from our northeast region, somewhere near home to actor ‘Danny` Denzongpa of Sikkim.

Others speculated she could be a true import from foreign land, maybe from Central Asia, the land of Changiz Khan, as her name suggests.

Slowly, the mysteries are unraveling about this round faced girl. Laila Khan is actually Sandar Win, a native of Burma, now called Myanmar.

Sandar was discovered two years ago while working as a general manager at an advertising company in Dubai. Many Bollywood directors and producers frequented this ad firm where this Burmese girl worked, to advertise their films. Sandar’s looks caught their attention and they coxed her to act in Bollywood films.

“They encouraged me to try my hand at acting because they thought I looked gorgeous,” said Sandar Win, who actually comes from Rangoon.

“Feeling confident from their encouragement, I flew to Mumbai with a dream of becoming a Bollywood star. But when I got there, I saw many attractive girls from around the world and was really nervous,” she said.

“I had to undergo exhausting screen tests but despite issues with the language barrier and learning Bollywood style dance, my screen tests went well. They liked my acting and sent me to a choreographer, and after two days I was able to perform Bollywood dance,” she added.

“A month later, I received a call that I have been selected to act in “Kool Nahi Hot Hai Hum.” I was incredibly happy… I did not expect this to happen… I had never dreamt that I would be an actress,” she said in an interview.

How Sandar Win did become Lalia Khan? “Well, they wanted to label me on the lines of Bollywood nymph Helen,” another import from Burma, who sizzled on Hindi sliver screen for the decades of 60s, 70s.

“And since I was coming from Dubai, where Laila is a common name, and this they suffixed it with Khan, a much circulated name in Bollywood dictionary, and give me the screen name Laila Khan. I had no issues with this name,” Sandar said.

So far Sandar Win has acted in three films. “Kool Nahi Hot Hai Hum” that was released last year. Her two more movies, “Faraar” and “Choore Pe Moore,” are set for release this festive season of November and December 2009.

She has signed contracts for another four Bollywood films. These are big budget films to be shot in Germany, Austria and Russia and for each film, Sandar will spend 40 days in each country.

The journey of Sandar Win from Rangoon to Dubai and from Dubai to Mumbai is a story of luck by chance. Truly it’s a story of someone on whom destiny is bestowed. / ens/
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Monuments Vanish – Government Unfazed

Monuments Vanish – Government Unfazed
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Some wise men of India say what is good about this country the opposite of it is also holds true. Take for instance the discovery of ancient heritage sites. On average Indian newspapers fill one item every week describing in graphic details, the discovery of heritage site excavated by the Archeological Survey of India.

One relish the hard work done by the government body that was set up way back in 1961 to discover the glorious past of the country, and thank it to let every Indian feel proud of the wonder that was India.

Well that’s brighter side of the story; the opposite is, Archeological Survey of India is also responsible for the disappearance of thirty-five of its protected monuments across the country. These protected monuments were notified during the British rule.

India’s culture minister Ambika Soni placed this information before Parliament on March 27 2009 and listed 35 “centrally-protected monuments/sites that are not traceable now”.

“The disappearance came to light in the course of surveys of the monuments and it is not feasible to fix individual responsibility,” the Minister said in a written reply to the upper house.

She blamed “rapid urbanisation, construction of multi-storeyed residential and commercial buildings, implementation of development projects, etc.” for the disappearance of the monuments.

As many as 12 of the 35 entries; some have more than one structure are in Delhi. Uttar Pradesh has eight, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir three each, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat two each and Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka one each.

The 12 monuments missing from Delhi includes Moti Gate in Bazidpur; Phool Chadar, Mubarakabad; Barakhamba Cemetery; Alipur Cemetery; Joga Bai Mound, Jamia Nagar; Shamsi Talab, Mehrauli and Nicholson statue.

Among them is Moti Gate of Sher Shah Suri’s Delhi, notified as a centrally-protected monument in 1913. There is also no trace of the Alipur cemetery, which apparently fell victim to a bypass on the GT-Karnal Road in the 1980s.

Uttar Pradesh with eight untraceable monuments comes second. Most of these monuments are spread over Lucknow, Banda, Hardoi and Jalaun.

In Lucknow, the big monument lost is Imambara Amin-ud-Daula and many cemeteries. In other places, most of the monuments are cemeteries

What cannot be traced in Jammu and Kashmir are rock carving of Sitala, Narada, Brahma, Devi riding a lion and Radha Krishna in Kathua district. Also lost is cave temple of Visveswara in Kathua.

In Karnataka, a pre-historic site in Mysore cannot be traced while in Gujarat ancient site in Sejakpur in Surendranagar is lost. Haryana has lost Mughal Kos Minar in Faridabad and Kurukshetra. In Rajasthan, inscription in Fort Nagar and 12th century temple in Baran cannot be traced.

The figure does not indicate the true magnitude of the problem. The government’s list only mentions the “centrally-protected monuments,” a reference to the sites in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, which number 3,667 at present.

It does not include sites that at some time were “protected” by state authorities. Currently, there are about 4,000 of them across the country.

More important, the figure does not take into account the unprotected sites, many of which are not even identified as “monuments”.

Taking into account this colossal damage that is going on to the national heritage, the union government has recently launched National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities to place such little-known sites on record. It has been given a corpus fund of Rs 90-crore and a time frame of five years to identify and document such monuments and antiquities.

One hopes that the records will be set right and no future loss to its monuments and antiquities will take place. We leave this to future and talk about the present where the stand-off between Archeological Survey of India and Muslim worshippers continues.

The Muslim worshipers are demanding to open the gates of protected mosque, to cater to the religious obligation keeping in mind the growing population and keep such places of worship in service for which they have been constructed.

Recently a group of people tried to forcibly enter the ASI protected the Jamali Kamali mosque at Mehrauli in South Delhi to offer Friday prayers but were chased off by the Delhi police.

Responding to the incident, Home minister P Chidambaram said; the Government would not allow prayers in monuments protected by the ASI except in 12 structures where they were being offered for years.

We are for defacto status quo. But in no other protected monuments prayers will be allowed to be offered," Chidambaram said. Among the 12 places of worship, five are in leading monuments and seven where prayers have been offered on Fridays.

One wonders at the wisdom of the government in prohibiting the Muslim worshippers from using their places of worship. The late Rajiv Gandhi who had the dubious distinction of the opening the gates of Babari Masjid at Ayodhya to the Hindu group, had then defended the ban on the Muslims to worship in the protected monuments, saying these architectures are in depleted condition and from safety point of view it was advisable not to pray in such mosques.

We can argue with the government over this issue but when we take into consideration the disappearance of the 35 protected monuments, one has think, whether such places of worships would be safer with the government or in the custody of the worshipers for whom it’s a necessity at least five times a day.

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