Monday, August 28, 2006


Why are Indians so averse to criticism??? I finally found the story that has pushed me to write this post. It was a ridiculous, ridiculous piece on ‘Slum tourism in Mumbai’ from a channel that exhorts us to ‘Feel the News’. I feel sick.

The two Indian anchors practically bullied two foreign tourists invited to their studio, for walking through the squalor of the slums of Dharavi and stripping its residents of ‘dignity’ and being totally ‘insensitive’ to these real ‘people’.

(They took the moral high ground that Indian tour operators were making money off India’s poverty.)

But frankly, who are we to talk about dignity and insensitivity? If we were so sensitive, we’d be thinking of ways to get foreign tourists to help these people lead better lives with their dollars, not abuse them for wanting to see the reality of India and for gods sake - stop lying to the world - it is a reality!

The beleaguered male foreign tourist said, “I agree that there might be some insensitivity in going through their slums, but these people were actually happy to see us. They were happy to talk about the industry in their slum and show us what they were manufacturing.’ Its certainly more than what most Indians have time for so what are we complaining about??

The female tourist was more combative. She said, “Of course, I’m here to see the slums. I want to see how people live. That’s why you travel.” Whats wrong with that?

The story ran a sound byte of some average Mumbai lady saying, “I don’t want others to see the dirty side of my city, Mumbai. That’s certainly not the side I want the world to see.”

I think its clasically representative of a misplaced pride that many Indians have. There is a certain rejection of the realities of India and a selective choice of things we are proud of. Real pride is when you accept these bitter realities not pretend they don’t exist.

Another instance of this misplaced pride is the hue and cry over the treatment meted out to the 12 Mumbai passengers detained by Dutch authorities for suspiscious behaviour. Admittedly, we live in unhappy, paranoid times but the Dutch authorities don’t call in fighter jets just to scratch a racist itch.

Such misplaced pride. Show the world your slums. Atleast it might bring in tourist money that you can use to improve the slums – the festering eye-sore you are so ashamed of but find no creative solutions to improve.

In an interview on the protests in Pakistan over the death of Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Tasneem Aslam, pretty much told India to mind its own business. She said, “Let India not worry about the protests in Pakistan. Let them concentrate instead on its flooding dams, its dying farmers and its malnourished children.” We will, when we aren't so busy trying to sell the world a half-truth.

Friday, August 18, 2006


This was an interview I did with the security expert B. Raman days after the US warning that India could be on Al-Qaeda's radar. B Raman is a retired bureaucrat and has been a former member of the National Security Advisory Board (2000 to 2002) and the Special Task Force on revamping the intelligence apparatus in the country.

Does the Al-Qaeda have a presence in India?

As far as I know there is no presence of Al-Qaeda as an organisation in India. It is an exclusively Arab organisation because Osama bin Laden does not admit non-arabs for the sake of his own security. He hires only those people whose loyalty he is certain of. But there are a number of other organisations that are associated with the Al-Qaeda in the international Islamic front through the United Front of Jihadi organisations of the World formed by him in February 1998. Four of them are very active in India - the Lashkar e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-jihad-al-Islami and Jaish e-Mohammed. These four are associated with Al-Qaeda.

After 9/11 when America attacked Afghanistan the command and control of Al-Qaeda were considerably disrupted. At that time Osama bin Laden asked LeT to take over responsibility of co-ordinating the work of the international Islamic front.

Also, since April this year Osama bin Laden has started taking more interest in India. He made a broadcast on April 23rd where he projected global jihad as a conspiracy of Christians, Jews and Hindus against Islam. So since April he has included Hindus as well.

To answer your question - Al-Qaeda itself does not exist in India, but it has links with several organisations and individuals here.

What was the immediate provocation for him to include the term 'Hindus' in his April broadcast?

It happened immediately after George W. Bush's visit to India. He made a broadcast through an audio tape released through Al-Jazeera. There he said that Bush has allowed himself to be pressurised by the government of India to exercise pressure on Pakistan to stop assistance to Jihadis in Kashmir. So the immediate provocation is the close relationship between India and the US.

Al-Qaeda is becoming an ideology. So does it become just as dangerous that they have links here, even if they dont exist in India?

Al-Qaeda is an ideology which they have borrowed from Pakistan - what they call international Islamism, where they say that the first loyalty of a Muslim is to his religion and then only to the country of which he is a citizen. They claim, Muslims do not recognise national frontiers - so they have the right to make jihad anywhere where Muslims are in danger and their human rights are being violated.

Previously Al-Qaeda was content to act through organisations like LeT, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen etc. They had left it to them - they just provided money, arms and ideas. Since April the Al-Qaeda has taken a more direct interest in India.

Indian Muslims have kept themselves away from the Al-Qaeda and a small number supports groups like the LeT. As a result Indian muslims are not under suspicion - for example a Pakistani Muslim can't get a visa easily to go to the US and Europe. They can't transfer money easily - even through legitimate banking channels it takes a long time because enquiries are made, whereas Indian Muslims are not yet under suspicion - they have kept away from Al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is very keen to organise another major terror strike against the US. So he is looking for people who have not come to the adverse notice of the western intelligence agencies and thats why they are trying to recruit Indians - not only for terror against India but also for terrorist operations in the West. Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda think they can travel much more easily. For example, Bilal al Hindi - a Muslim of Gujarati origin (he was a Hindu Gujarati convert to Islam from East Africa and has been arrested in the UK) was sent to the US because he would not be viewed with as much suspicion as a Pakistani Muslim.

Then will bin Laden find his human resource here?

Well, one has to make a distinction between radicalisation and pan-Islamisation. The radicalisation of Indian Muslims started after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Dec. 1992. Earlier you had communal riots but there was never an act of jihadi terrorism. The first act on Indian territory outside Kashmir took place after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. While they became radical they were not supporting the Al-Qaeda. If Al-Qaeda is to have a base here, it has to have some support from Indian Muslims. Till April this year they did not have support unlike in some parts of south east Asia where you'll find Osama bin Laden caps and T-shirts being sold openly. But in April, when Bush came there were a number of demonstrations in Bombay, Delhi and Lucknow. I read in newspapers that in Bombay people shoulted pro-Osama slogans. Its a very small number but there is that small number that is getting attracted to his pan-Islamist ideology, whereas, previously they were just radicalised. They did not look upon it as part of a global movement. Their problem was with the government at the centre and the state. Now Al-Qaeda is trying to make them feel that they are part of a global movement.

Monday, August 07, 2006


I should’ve written about this a long time ago. Its not ‘newsy’ anymore, but because it still makes me angry to drive past the DGP’s office in Chennai, I’m going to put it down.

In a traffic island in the middle of the road stands the tall statue of thespian Sivaji Ganesan. With its unveiling on July 21st, Karunanidhi has ticked off another item from his long list of (slightly dubious) poll promises.

The location of the statue was contested in court because it violated the Tamil Nadu government’s own undertaking before the Supreme Court that they would not erect any structure (temporary or permanent) that would obstruct movement of traffic. The Madras High court directed the state government to seek the SC’s permission on the location of the statue, but declined to stay its unveiling.

And then in the most brazen display of the governments contempt for the common mans problems and violating their own undertaking, they conducted the unveiling ceremony right there in the middle of the road, blocking off traffic on the arterial Kamaraj Salai while office leaving traffic was forced through the parallel but much much narrower road that runs just along the beach.

I tried to speak to a few people who were crawling along in traffic and was disgusted to find that people just don’t feel angry. Silently like lambs being led to the slaughter they negotiated their way, crawling along where they would’ve been zipping down the beach road. Yet, stop and ask them a question and the responses ranged from… ‘no… it is ok’ to ‘the traffic is not that bad’ to people just walking away! Rudely!

The meek shall not inherit the earth if they get stuck in traffic.

And today two policemen stand guard in front of and behind the statue. Surely, in a city where a serious robbery can take place in the chief ministers own neighbourhood, and the police to public ratio gets more disproportionate all the time, police resources can be put to better use than guarding dead heroes.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


'Physicians for Peace', 'Peoples Union for Civil Liberties' and other peace organisations are meeting this evening to protest against Israel's senseless bombing of Lebanon. The protest starts at 5:30 pm this evening near the Gandhi Statue on the Marina Beach.

Meanwhile, read this open letter from an Arab girl to President Bush.