Aug 082014

My column in yesterday’s DNA

All events take place from the point of view of the observer. With every observer, the perspective is different; the angle with which they see an event is clouded by where they stand — both physically and philosophically. Take something as simple as the eating of meat, in general, or beef or pork, in particular. For many western cultures, both are part of a sumptuous meal. For Hindus eating of beef is a sin as the cow is considered holy; for Muslims and Jews the eating of pork is considered a definite no – the pig is considered impure. For others, especially staunch vegetarians of the PETA variety, the eating of any meat is morally indefensible and if they had their way it would also be a crime. None of these groups is wrong — their views are formed by their beliefs. And it would be fair to say that in this particular case — the eating of meat — there are many truths, and each one of them is equally valid. For most issues in the world today the maxim that there are many, equally valid truths, can be said to hold true. And, nowhere is this more apt than looking at the issues in Gaza and the plight of the Palestinians caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas.

The first valid truth is that the situation in Gaza is untenable. We have all seen deeply disturbing visuals of children dead; of old people left to die; of homes that are totally bombed out; of the consistent stories of horror and terror of a civilian population that is unable to live a life approaching normalcy. We have been exposed to photographs and videos of devastated hospitals, of schools that have been blasted out of existence, of homes that no longer exist. More than anything else that makes one cringe, is the look of emptiness and the expressions bereft of hope that is plastered on the faces of the survivors. Do the people of Gaza have the right to live a life without fear, without the terror and horror that we have been seeing (and they have been experiencing)? The answer is definitely a ‘yes’.

The second, equally valid, truth is that Israel has the right to exist and thrive. Its people and population have the right to live without fearing another genocide. The Jews, through history, have been persecuted and the culmination of this was the concentration camps set up by the Nazis. The land promised to them in the aftermath of World War I, only became a reality after more than 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. Israel is the only homeland for the Jews. Associated with this truth, is the fact that Israel is in a neighbourhood where her neighbours want her destroyed and annihilated. Does Israel have the right to protect its people and territories and ensure that terrorists don’t harm it — most definitely yes.

The third truth is also about Israel and its treatment of the people who live in the occupied territories. The fact remains that those inhabitants are treated pretty much the same way as any occupier treats a conquered land. People are blockaded, jobs are difficult to find, education is scarce, civic amenities a distant vision and most importantly, civil rights a myth and the basic human dignity of those who live in the occupied territories is eroded on a daily basis. And this is even before the current targeting and indiscriminate killing of civilians. Would this lead to a rise in anger against the occupiers? Most definitely, yes.

The fourth equally valid truth is that Hamas that controls the Gaza strip wants to control all of Israel. It has refused, consistently, to recognise the State of Israel. In fact, its charter has consistently refused to recognise the two-state formula whereby there would be two states — the State of Israel and the State of Palestine that coexist in relative peace. The leaders of Hamas have called, repeatedly, for the destruction of Israel and its people. Furthermore, it has repeatedly used its own people as human shields in its ongoing war against Israel.

The fifth truth is that Palestine itself — split between the West Bank and the Gaza strip — is amidst a tug-of-war between the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority, that controls the West Bank, and the more militant Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip. While Fatah is relatively more amenable to peace, Hamas is not. It is difficult to have peace when one side will only be satisfied by the utter destruction and annihilation of the other.

There is one more truth here and that is the issues here can, most optimistically, be defined as being complicated. If you had to do a timeline of the conflict it can go back to early history of humanity. From that period till now, the history of the region has been bloody and brutal.

The past cannot be solved. It exists. The future is what can be redrawn. The question is, therefore, quite simple, sans all the collected rhetoric of the last three millennia — peace or war? Coexistence or mutually assured destruction? The way forward is not to assign blame — if we go down that path there is no end to it. Rather, the way forward is to find a solution, for the future.

The world needs to stop taking sides and work towards a unified goal. Peace and coexistence are possible, only if there is no war for a few generations. If the people of Europe, who have traditionally fought each other throughout history; if the people of India, whose kings have fought battles with each other through history can live with their past and work together for a better tomorrow, more or less accepting multiple forms of diversity, there is no reason why the people in Israel and Palestine cannot. The people deserve a chance.

Jan 212013

My column in today’s DNA

This is an old story that exists in many cultures in slightly varying forms. And, despite its folksy nature, it still holds lessons for today – be it in interpersonal conduct or in international relations.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a little coastal village. Three sides faced the sea, and the only way out to the big town was through a forest.  In the woods lived a great many animals, and most were hunted by the village – sometimes for food, other times for sport, yet others out of fear. Most of the residents of the forest stayed far away from the village. However, the King of Snakes had no option. His wife had just laid eggs, and he needed to stay and guard his family. The villagers found him, and fearing his poison began attacking him. The King of Snakes, did not become King by being a walk over, he was a fierce fighter and strategist. He began taking the war back to the village. A few excruciating deaths by snake bite later, the villagers suddenly found their exit out of the village blocked. The few who tried to go out were prevented by the Nagaraj. Amidst this chaos, arrived a Seer, with his disciples – by boat. The villagers received the Guru with due respect, and made his stay in the village comfortable. The Sage, pleased with the villagers, asks them if he can do anything for them. The villagers complain about the Snake. The Guru tells them, he will take care of it. When he approaches the home of the Nagaraj, the King of Snakes senses the Great Teacher and accepts him as a Guru for himself and his family. The Seer asks the Snake to leave the villagers be and not bite them. The Snake agrees. The teacher leaves telling the villagers that they had nothing to fear anymore. The villagers revert to their original terrorizing behaviour –attacking the Nagaraj, destroying some Eggs, harming the wife. But, the Nagaraj and his family stick to their vow of not harming the villagers. A few months later, the Sage is passing by again.. He comes across the bruised and battered Nagaraj family. He asks them what the matter was. Mrs.Nagaraj pours her heart out. The King of Snakes looks stoically on, and tells the Guru – I stood by my word, as promised to you ‘we did not bite them’. The Guru smiled sagely and said “but, I didn’t tell you not to hiss’.

It would be advisable for the Government and Policy Makers in India, who seek peace with Pakistan, at all costs, to read the story and internalise its teachings. A hint – The story is neither about villainous villagers nor about talking snakes – nor is it all knowing seers who provide life altering solutions. Instead, it is about projecting a vibe. A vibe which says, attack and it will cost you. Attack and you will pay the price.  The story is not about attacking, not in the least. It is also not about desiring peace so much that you get bruised and battered in the bargain. The learning from the story is simple – signal the fact that you are ready to attack to defend your turf, and willing to do grievous harm to keep yourself and those you have sworn to protect safe.

Indian Army – Image courtesy, DNA

Peace with Pakistan is a desirable end. But like any relationship, this one too cannot be built on lies. More importantly, peace cannot be built on a foundation of resentment. It has to be built on mutual respect and understanding. Nostalgia about shared history that one province in India shared with one province in Pakistan is not good enough for the rest of India to pay the price. Breaking of peace, going back on one’s word, killing soldiers, mutilating their bodies all have their origins at a single point – the last three Indian Governments have wanted Peace at all Costs. Both Mr.Vajpayee and Dr.Singh – both of whom have sought peace, have had to signal the end of talks and a willingness to walk away from the dream of  “Peace in our Times” to get Pakistan to back down. Unfortunately, to achieve Peace you have to show that you are ready for war.

There is a via media between the calls for war and nuclear war put forth by belligerent war mongers who want to raise viewership by raising tempers, and ‘lets hug a neighbour today’ view put forward by peaceniks who live in neither country. That via media is signalling your intent to let the peace process die, if attacked – either by uniformed men or non-state actors using Pakistan as a base. Enough, really, is enough.

Nov 252012

from this week i begin blogging on Tehelkablog ….

the first of these is on the social media war between the Hamas and the Israel Defense Force (IDF)

The Middle East crisis is as old as history. Different people, different kingdoms, different issues and different cultures have been at it for millennia. The latest edition of the conflict dates back to 1947 – the year Palestine was divided into Jewish and Arab Areas. The following year Israel was born – giving the Jewish people a home where they can be secure and live without persecution after two thousand years.  The Arab states attacked the fledgling Jewish state almost immediately, and the war for the tiny strip of land has been on since then. There have been skirmishes, battles, and wars ever since. But, in addition to the physical war, there has always been a war to impact perception.At the core have been two sets of rights – the right of Israel and Israelis to exist and the right of the Palestinian people for a homeland. Both the State of Israel and the PLO spent time, energy and effort to build up their case, to down play the violence and to exaggerate the victimhood. Usually this was done by talking to Governments, friendly journalists and the like. But, now in an era of ubiquitous social media – they can talk to not just to all of them but also all of us.

do check out this excellent video by Nina Paley on the Israel/Palestine conflict

The blog 

If last year was the year when the ‘revolution’ was tweeted live, this year it is the turn of the war. The battle is not just for strips of land or even the need to stop violence or to live in peace — rather it is for the hearts and minds of millions on social media — who through their own spontaneous response to words and images will create a wave of buzz that swings public opinion. Or so, goes the theory.

In the last few weeks, the relationship between Israel and Hamas has been hotting up. Formal hostilities began on 14 November but prior to that, Israel has been bombing Gaza, in retaliation for the Hamas bombing Israel, which in turn was because of Israel blockading Gaza, which in turn was for Hamas… As they say on Facebook — it is complicated.

There is one level at which the war is going on where the cost is measured in lives; and there is another one going on where it is measured in terms of social media advantage. Both the Israel Defence Force and the Alqassam Brigades have been slugging it out in cyberspace. Both twitter handles have been giving a ball by ball bomb by bomb account of the war. Each is trying to tell its story to the world without the benefit of intermediaries. From independent to embedded journalists covering a war, to Armies giving you a rings side view of the hostilities directly — reporting of wars has changed.

Also present is a certain level of macho posturing. There is nothing like war to elevate the testosterone level all around.

The entire exchange between Israel Defence Force and the Alqassam Brigades is available on every platform, every media, and on every screen. Social media warriors armed with smartphones, datacards, and tablets are trying to dominate the narrative and tell their side of the story. It is not about the truth, rather their version of the truth.

Both sides are going for the jugular vis-à-vis their tweets, blogs and their call to their supporters. But this is not just aimed at the converted, but also the neutral observer. The communication has a certain excitement at the number of missiles being fired from one place to the other, a breathless awe at a missile being stopped. There are powerful words and powerful hashtags – #gazaunderattack, #warcrimes  (AlQassam Brigades) #Israelunderfire, #pillarofdefence (IDF), that are allowing us to follow the war. On the face of it the AlqassamBrigades has been luckier in its choice of tags – those are being used far more, and are getting more people to read the Hamas perspective.



With the kind of messages one gets to see, it is more and  more difficult to discern who the good guys are and who are not. When we had the filter of the Main Stream Media –be it private or state run –you went with their biases. Now suddenly, you are handling well-honed propaganda, about a region you know little about – except the basics – and the information overload is phenomenal. Do you outrage at Israelis killed by Hamas missiles, or Palestinians killed by Israeli missiles? In death they look rather similar.

The idea on both sides is to convert the passive supporter into an active one – and allowing their narrative to dominate – but there is a danger to this. The social media animal is a fickle one. S/he is rather like a adrenalin junkie that surfs from wave (outrage)to wave (outrage) – finding the next big wave so as to speak. Apart from a few committed people who will stick to the cause, the larger public will move to the next breaking story soon. Also, how do you top live death or live bombings, in terms of excitement? Presenting their case directly to the people – sans filters – is a great idea, but how do you prevent acute boredom? One bomb is pretty much like another bomb – especially when it is not falling on you.


Nov 292008

It is over. people dead. symbols destroyed. and a people stunned. 26/11 is going to be a date etched in our memory for ever – much like 9/11.

I am at home watching three funerals that TV channels are broadcasting. Those of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan in Bangalore, ATS Chief Hemant Karkare in Mumbai, and Havildar Gajendra Singh in Delhi.

And i find the stoicism of the last two days slipping away. There is something primeval within me that wants war and blood.

But, let me explain: This is not just about crossing the borders (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and flushing out the terrorists -it is about that too – and i hope that the Government has the balls to do that. But, it is more than that.

it is about bringing to book all the enemies within our borders as well
– Rajnath Singh – who threatened civil war when that cow of a ‘sadhvi’ and the traitor of a ‘Colonel’ was arrested, and who cast aspersions on the men of the ATS
– L.K.Advani – see above
– Bal Thakeray & family – see above and causing divisions in the nation
– Shivraj Patil – for doing nothing. criminal negligence anyone ?
– state CM’s – who have consistently opposed the Federal Anti Terror Agency
– Amar Singh – for supporting terrorists
– Mulayam Singh – see above

It is also about other things:
– seal our borders
– send illegal immigrants home or legalise them.
– Get in a comprehensive anti terror law that covers everything from rioting to bombings

And finally,
Legalise Drugs. All terror operations are using money from drugs to fund operations.

The United Nations reports that the illegal drug trade is worth $400 Billion a year – more than the U.S. Department of Defense budget. Indeed, illegal drugs make up 8% of all international trade while textiles make up 7.5% and motor vehicles just 5.3%. This mass traffic in illegal drugs has greatly contributed to violence across the globe.

You want to win the war on terror. cut off the money supply. and the best way to cut off the money supply is to legalise drugs, tax it and monitor it.

For Gods Sake, let these people not have died in vain. We owe it to their memories and their lives to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. And, to make sure that it doesn’t happen again lessons don’t just have to be learnt, they have to be taught ! the time for posturing is over. It is time for action. We are at war. Not Mumbai. Not Colaba. But India.