Back in early 2005, just as the world was reeling under the mind-numbing realization that close to a quarter million people perished as a result of the devastating Tsunami, the Sangh Parivar mobilized its mouthpieces and claimed under various guises to be conducting a massive effort to provide succor to thousands in southern India. One place where they gained notoriety immediately was Nagapattinam district’s Keechankuppam village, which lies right next to the harbor. Here, Sewa Bharati threatened NGOs that sought to respond to the community’s requests for assistance. The saffron goons believed the village to be their personal fiefdom, and only after facing the wrath of local villagers did they relent.
Two years after the tsunami the saffron sevaks and their various sangh parivar outfits each claimed to have built 248 units for the village’s inhabitants. As has become common for NGO constructed housing, the completion was marked by a ceremonial handing-over of keys to the houses (see article from The Hindu). Now the residents who live in these units are angry. The two storey houses painted in cheerful pink and accessible through a garish arch that memorializes the Sangh Parivar more than it represents the village and its peoples’ culture, are emblems of horrid construction practices.
Not that this is unique to the Sangh’s work: scores of NGO constructed houses have problems that can only be termed disastrous, pun very soberly intended. In a sense Sewa Bharati succeeded in behaving just like all the other NGOs – it hastily built the houses without giving a hoot about the fact that the site was more than a kilometer away from the coast. But it went further than most other NGOs by warning its beneficiaries that they shouldn’t allow Muslims and Christians into their new village. The residents report that such admonitions were listened to silently, and promptly ignored since they (and the coastal population in these parts) have a long tradition of inter-communal harmony.
As of late November, 2007, the residents of Keechankuppam’s original village and the 248 families living more than a kilometer away have not seen the Sangh Parivar sevaks: Sewa Bharati has practically disappeared from view. All that remains are two storeyed houses where toilets have been built with no septic tanks, walls cracked with rain water leaking in, drain pipes leaking water into houses below, ceilings with holes, dangerous slush filled banks of the backwaters which people are forced to use as toilets, diseases due to standing water and sewage, and most importantly, the feeling that the saffron charlatans skipped town. As for other “seva” activities neither residents of the original village nor those of the new colony could remember anything worthwhile done by the saffron sevaks. Local community organizations run schools and provide other necessary services to the people, but the Sangh’s “selfless warriors” are missing in action from Keechankuppam. And good riddance one might add.
Currently many of the residents of the second storeys have returned back to the sites of their original homes, with some having rebuilt small homes themselves. The economic costs of being away from the coast are too heavy for a community that derives its livelihood from fishing. People who took the permanent houses are adamant about retaining their original spaces despite the government’s demand that they give up rights to those spaces once they receive new houses. Now the horrid realities of living in dangerously constructed houses adds to the desire of these people to head back to the coast and defend their right to the coast with renewed vigor. Sewa Bharati’s chicanery has unwittingly aided this return, but before we laud them for it, lets not forget that even here the Saffron sevaks should share (dis)honors with the herd of NGOs who came blaring trumpets, built castles of sand and ran away.
We (the undersigned) read with growing dismay the statement signed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others advising those opposing the CPI(M)’s pro-capitalist policies in West Bengal not to “split the Left” in the face of American imperialism. We believe that for some of the signatories, their distance from events in India has resulted in their falling prey to a CPI(M) public relations coup and that they may have signed the statement without fully realising the import of it and what it means here in India, not just in Bengal.
We cannot believe that many of the signatories whom we know personally, and whose work we respect, share the values of the CPI(M) – to “share similar values” with the party today is to stand for unbridled capitalist development, nuclear energy at the cost of both ecological concerns and mass displacement of people (the planned nuclear plant at Haripur, West Bengal), and the Stalinist arrogance that the party knows what “the people” need better than the people themselves. Moreover, the violence that has been perpetrated by CPI(M) cadres to browbeat the peasants into submission, including time-tested weapons like rape, demonstrate that this “Left” shares little with the Left ideals that we cherish.
Over the last decade, the policies of the Left Front government in West Bengal have become virtually indistinguishable from those of other parties committed to the neoliberal agenda. Indeed, “the important experiments undertaken in the State” – the land reforms referred to in the statement – are being rapidly reversed. According to figures provided by the West Bengal state secretary for land reforms, over the past five years there has been a massive increase of landless peasants in the state due to government acquisition of land cheaply for handing over to corporations and developing posh upper class neighbourhoods.
We urge our friends to take very seriously the fact that all over the country, democratic rights groups, activists and intellectuals of impeccable democratic credentials have come out in full support of the Nandigram struggle.
The statement reiterates the CPI(M)’s claim that “there will be no chemical hub” in Nandigram, but this assurance is itself deliberately misleading. This is the explanation repeatedly offered by CPI(M) for the first round of resistance in Nandigram – that people reacted to a baseless rumour that there would be land acquisitions in the area. In fact, as the Chief Minister himself conceded in the State Assembly, it was no rumour but a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority on January 2, 2007 indicating the approximate size and location of the projected SEZ, which triggered the turmoil.
The major factor shaping popular reaction to the notification was Singur.
Singur was the chronicle of the fate foretold for Nandigram. There, land was acquired in most cases without the consent of peasant-owners and at gun-point (terrorizing people is one way of obtaining their consent), under the colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894). That land is now under the control of the industrial house of the Tatas, cordoned off and policed by the state police of West Bengal. The dispossessed villagers are lost to history. A fortunate few among them will become wage slaves of the Tatas on the land on which they were once owners.
While the CPM-led West Bengal government has announced that it will not go ahead with the chemical hub without the consent of the people of Nandigram, it has not announced any plans of withdrawing its commitment to the neo-liberal development model. It has not announced the shelving of plans to create Special Economic Zones. It has not withdrawn its invitation to Dow Chemicals (formerly known as Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Bhopal) to invest in West Bengal. In other words, there are many more Nandigrams waiting to happen.
In any case, the reason for the recently renewed violence in Nandigram has been widely established to have nothing to do with the rumour or otherwise of a chemical hub. Print and visual media, independent reports, the governor of West Bengal (Gopal Gandhi) and the State Home Secretary’s police intelligence all establish that this round of violence was initiated by the CPI(M) to re-establish its control in the area. We all have seen TV coverage of unarmed villagers barricaded behind walls of rubble, while policemen train their guns on them.
With the plans it has for the future, regaining control over Nandigram is vital for the CPI(M) to reassure its corporate partners that it is in complete control of the situation and that any kind of resistance will be comprehensively crushed. The euphemism for this in the free marketplace is ‘creating a good investment climate’.
The anti-Taslima Nasreen angle that has recently been linked to the Nandigram struggle against land acquisition is disturbing to all of us. However, we should remember that it is largely Muslim peasants who are being dispossessed by land acquisitions all over the state. There is a general crisis of confidence of the Muslim community vis-à-vis the Left Front government, inaugurated by the current Chief Minister’s aggressive campaign to “clean up” madarsas, followed by the revelation of the Sachar Committee that Muslim employment in government jobs in West Bengal is among the lowest in the country. While we condemn the attempts to utilize this discontent and channelize it in sectarian ways, we feel very strongly that it would be unfortunate if the entire anger of the community were to be mobilized by communal and sectarian tendencies within it. Such a situation would be inevitable if all Left forces were seen to be backing the CPI(M).
This is why at this critical juncture it is crucial to articulate a Left position that is simultaneously against forcible land acquisition in Nandigram and for the right of Tasleema Nasreen to live, write and speak freely in India.
History has shown us that internal dissent is invariably silenced by dominant forces claiming that a bigger enemy is at the gate. Iraq and Iran are not the only targets of that bigger enemy. The struggle against SEZ’s and corporate globalization is an intrinsic part of the struggle against US imperialism.
We urge our fellow travellers among the signatories to that statement, not to treat the “Left” as homogeneous, for there are many different tendencies which claim that mantle, as indeed you will recognize if you look at the names on your own statement.
Varanasi: A book fair was organized by National Book Trust, Delhi on Beniabaug Grounds. Some publishers were displaying and selling books that were anti-Hindu Dharma, denigrating Hindu deities, saints and Holy Scriptures. Devout Hindus came together and protested against these publishers. A book titled “Ramayana, a new perspective” was burnt under the leadership of Swami Jagajeetan Pandeya, Secretary of Akhil Bharateeya Dharma Sangh as it hurt religious sentiments of Hindus whereas some books were thrown away from the book fair and the book sellers were warned to destroy such books.
Some book-sellers were deliberately displaying books with titles like “Rati-Purana”, “Ramayana- Ek Naya Drusahtikon”, “Hindu Dharma ke Padabhrashta Tulsidas”, “Tantra-Mantra-Yantra”, “Hindu Sanskruti”, “Sree Krushna Aur Unaki Geeta” etc. There was furor among Hindus all through the city as they came to know about such display and sale. There were protests in different parts of the city in various manners against this incident. Shri. Balendu Shekhar Tripathi of RSS and Shri. Gulshana Kapur of Shiv Sena visited the book stalls and checked such controversial books. They also brought this matter to the notice of City Magistrate. 13 anti-Hindu books were confiscated and ban was imposed on their sale. Workers of BJP – Youth Wing burnt effigy of Ramaswamy and a book written by him titled ‘Sachchi Ramayana’ since it insulted Sree Rama.
When police arrested agitators, the organizers of the book fair were expressing apology to them instead of taking action against them.
[BJP celebrates its southern debut, proclaims a recent Organiser article. The celebration proved shortlived however, as it couldn’t muster enough support in the Karnataka Assembly and ended up recommending President’s rule (which was duly imposed). Here’s a rather humorous exchange compiled by Rediff]
B S Yeddyurappa (BSY): This is the worst betrayal of my life. I was cheated at the last moment.
H D Kumaraswamy (HDK): What betrayal? The JD-S had only asked him to discuss certain issues, which he did not bother to do.
BSY: They were upset that I was trying to do something good for the state. I had taken a couple of decisions as the chief minister, which they objected to.
HDK: Nobody is against development. What was the hurry is all I ask? He could have waited till he proved his majority. This was a coalition government and it is necessary that partners are consulted before any decision is taken.
BSY: As chief minister, I had announced the clearing of Below Poverty Line cards and cycles at subsidy. What was wrong? Did I have to wait to take these decisions?
HDK: Yeddyurappa should not forget that it was I who suggested both the initiatives when I was chief minister. Yeddyurappa had said that it was not possible and we had had several altercations on this issue.
BSY: In my budget as the finance minister, I had done so much good that I think the JD-S was insecure about. I had announced a loan waiver, loans at 4 per cent for farmers, banned both arrack and lottery.
HDK: When this budget was announced, I was the chief minister. Yeddyurappa had said that it is just not possible to waive loans or give loans at such a low interest and ban arrack and lottery. He said the state would reel under a financial crisis. I convened a meeting with the officials and ensured that all this was possible.
BSY: The JD-S said they would give us unconditional support and all of a sudden they seemed to have all the conditions.
HDK: You call these conditions. These were only guidelines. We were not trying to catch the BJP by the horn. If the BJP had abided by these guidelines, it would have done more good than harm to them. When the JD-S said all disputes should be resolved through the respective leaders was there anything wrong? You know what problems I faced during my tenure. I did not want Yeddyurappa to face the same problems.
BSY: Does not Kumaraswamy and his father, Deve Gowda, know the history of this country? Everything here is based on trust and despite this they wanted the BJP to sign on a document sheet stating that we abide by the conditions.
HDK: Why is he talking about the document paper? Ask him who started this trend. Before going to Raj Bhavan, it was the BJP that came out with the terms and conditions of running the government on a document sheet. They wanted us to sign on it. So what is wrong if we asked for the same?
BSY: How can the JD-S impose conditions on us? Who are they to decide on our portfolios? Why were they asking for Urban Development? What is so lucrative about the portfolio?
HDK: Yes, we did ask for Urban Development. But it was not to rob the state. We were only concerned about the people. All of you are aware that we were against the manner in which the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Project was being implemented. Over 3000 acre of land was at stake and the BJP was showing no interest in protecting it. The JD-S is committed towards this cause and hence to prevent any misuse of land, we asked for the Urban Development portfolio.
BSY: As a chief minister, I wanted to seek Gowda’s blessings as he is a senior leader and a former prime minister of the country. He told me to meet Kumaraswamy first and then go to him. What was the need to behave like this?
HDK: This is being blown out of proportion. Why is he making such a big issue? When the government was first formed it was the two of us who discussed everything. Now why was he trying to avoid me? What about his own party leaders who did not even bother calling on my father when they were in Bangalore?
BSY: What was the need to issue the whip against me?
HDK: Till the last minute, I was hopeful that Yeddyurappa would sit across the table and talk. Certain conditions were necessary to be abided by. But that did not seem to happen and it was in the interest of the people of Karnataka that the whip had to be issued.
Taslima has once again been forced to go into hiding! However, the latest furor against her has a larger context as Diptosh Majumdar explains:
The burning issue of Nandigram was stoking the fires in Kolkata. The Muslims have been viewing explicit footage of how their community members had been at the receiving end in secular West Bengal’s Nandigram. Television channels and newspapers have been discussing gang-rape and other inhuman tales of atrocities perpetrated by the omnipotent CPI(M) cadre.
Nasreen may have been the trigger, the catalyst; but the fury has been building up after Nandigram. The Muslim sub-conscious has also not forgiven Kolkata Police for its alleged involvement in the mysterious death of Rizwanur Rahman, a young graphics designer with a bright future. The senior IPS officers had no business to intercede on behalf of an affluent Marwari family and get the couple separated.
As if to recompense for the Nandigram violence and buttress his secular credentials, Biman Bose suggested that Taslima should leave Kolkota if her stay creates a problem for peace. He also sought to blame Taslima’s presence in Kolkota on the Center. “I don’t want to speak elaborately on the role played by the Centre on Taslima Nasreen’s stay in West Bengal”, he added cryptically.
Hindustan Times quotes an unnamed Left Front leader admitting the role played by electoral concerns:
“Taslima’s presence has endangered not just common citizens. After Nandigram, Left parties run the risk of losing minority votes. Most Left Front leaders have realised that fundamentalist thoughts have made inroads into Muslim society, which had followed the Left’s secular ideology for decades,” said a senior Front leader. “But we cannot admit that in public.”
All India Forward Bloc leader Hafiz Ali Sairani also pinned the blame on Taslima!
“Our secular image is intact. But people should remember that while expressing personal views, one can’t hurt the feelings of millions. Two pages from Taslima’s novel Dwikhondito led to this crisis. It’s sad the anger of the people was directed at the state and not the Centre, who issued the visa to Taslima.”
Fellow FB leader Devrajan also suggested that Taslima should leave the country for the time being if her presence was creating a problem, but party general secretary Debabrata Biswas restored sanity albeit with a rider that Taslima understand that “her use of pen and tongue should not hurt sentiments of a section of people in the country”! The RSP came out strongly in support of Taslima, calling her forcible removal from Kolkota another black spot (an unfortunate, though common usage of black as a negative color) on the face of Left Front after Nandigram. Meanwhile, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta strongly disagreed with Bose, apologise[d] for what has happened, offerred her protection in Kolkota and called for granting her Indian citizenship if she so desired.
Perhaps stung by the flak from the Left, Bimen Bose has since retracted his comments, and sought to put the onus on the Center:
The state government does not have the authority to grant or cancel visa and only the Centre can do this and let the Union government take an appropriate decision on the issue.
The highly opinionated Sitaram Yechury also resorted to the Center-knows-best mantra:
The visa to a foreign citizen is given by the Central government, which also decides where one can stay in the country….No state government has any role in such matters.
To the best of my knowledge, foreign affairs is also the prerogative of the Central Government though the CPI(M) has never been shy (and rightly so) about asserting its opinions here. Having antagonized large segments of the Left, looks like the comrades from CPI(M) don’t have the stomach for another fight (even if this would mean succumbing to the dictates of Islamic fundamentalists)!
We have not mixed up issues as has been reported. We were not agitating against the violence in Nandigram, we were only protesting against the visa extension of Ms Taslima Nasreen as we strongly believe that she has no right to stay in this state.
Syed Md Murur Rahman Barkati, one of his co-conspirators and Imam of the Tippu Sultan mosque seemed unrepentant and asserted: What has happened is because she is being able to stay on in the city. Much like in Hyderabad earlier this year, when those in power are reluctant to take on the fundamentalists, the latter naturally take on a more strident tone. Idris Ali and Barkati are most likely beyond reason, but pressure must be brought to bear on the Left Front to not give in to fundamentalists. Now would also be a good time to demand the un-banning of Taslima’s books in West Bengal.
Meanwhile, Taslima, who has never made secret of her love for Kolkota, has said she has left my heart behind in Kolkata. The Bengali intelligentsia has come to her support, with Mahasweta Devi (among others) strongly criticizing the Left Front:
I saw on television that she was taken away from her residence to the airport by the police. It clearly hints at state government’s influence behind the move. Actually, it is the follow-up of the comment made by Left Front chairman Biman Bose.
Now is the time for a strong push toward pressuring the Indian government to grant citizenship to Taslima and ensure protection to her (and other apostates) who often end up incurring the wrath of thin-skinned fundamentalists. For now, I’ll end with a gem from Taslima:
I [described] the Quran, the Vedas, and the Bible and all such religious texts determining the lives of their followers as out of place and out of time. We crossed that social historical context in which these were written and therefore we should not be guided by their precepts; the question of revising [these texts] thoroughly or otherwise is irrelevant. We have to move beyond these ancient texts if we want to progress. In order to respond to our spiritual needs let humanism be our new faith.
Embattled Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf won a crucial court ruling that secured his hold on power. On Thursday, the Pakistan Supreme Court dismissed the sixth and final legal challenge against his re-election. While Musharraf supporters applauded the verdict as preordained from above, critics dismissed it as a result doctored by Musharraf.
It may be recalled that after the declaration of emergency, Musharraf had altered the composition of the Pakistan Supreme Court. Critics say he packed it with his supporters, and with several former judges — including dismissed former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry — still under police custody, even Musharraf supporters grudgingly admit they have a point. This, and the detention of lawyers, seem to have become a sticky issue for his erstwhile allies in the War on Terror. A source from the British Foreign Office confirmed that Musharraf had made it “really difficult for us to continue supporting him. How could we profess respect for democracy and the rule of the law and at the same time support someone who has showed scant respect for either?” On Pakistan’s suspension from the Commonwealth, the clarified that this was meant to be a temporary face-saving measure, and would in “no way affect arms sales to Pakistan.”
In the United States, opinion seems to be divided along party lines. The Democrats seem to be veering around to the view that Musharraf’s Presidency lacks legitimacy. A party source confided: “He has gone about it all wrong. If he had packed the judiciary with his supporters earlier, the Supreme Court could have elected him President and Pakistan would still be a democracy. He is solely to blame for the mess we are in. Musharraf also lacks Zia-ul-Haq’s cunning and bestiality, and now has a tough fight ahead of him.”
In contrast, President Bush congratulated Musharraf on his judicial victory. As a Republican strategist confirmed that “[t]he President spoke with Musharraf and empathized with him as only a judicially elected President can.” “The President has for long emphasized the importance of the judiciary in a democracy, and Musharraf seems to have finally grasped it”, he added. He also castigated the Democrats’ reluctance to respect the latest court verdict; “disregarding Supreme Court verdicts seems to have a become a habit with the Dems”, he noted with thinly disguised contempt.
A highly placed source in the Pakistan government sought to demystify the realpolitik behind this rapidly evolving drama. “You see, these Western Governments make a lot of hue and cry about democracy, but have short term memories. When Zia [ul Haq] staged a coup and presided over the judicial execution of [Zulfikar] Bhutto, the United States and Britain imposed sanctions for a while but quickly befriended the new ruler to counter the Red menace. Similarly, status quo will now be quickly restored for the sake of fighting Islamic fundamentalism. Of course, Musharraf will in the meantime have to swallow gratuitous insults and advice (from the West), and show composure. He often fulminates against them in private meetings, which serves a cathartic purpose and is good, but is way too smart to antagonize them like Saddam.”
BJP leader Yeddyurappa is all set to be sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, in a culmination of the BJP’s biggest political coup in the South so far. A beaming Yeddyurappa took time off his busy schedule to grant an interview.
Q: What are your thoughts on becoming the Chief Minister?
A: I am delighted at this opportunity to serve the people of Karnataka. This is a victory for the common man, and in particular, all Hindus of Karnataka.
Q: Could you comment on your name change?
A: (smiling shyly) Changing names is nothing new in politics, where people often change political parties and money changes hands almost all the time. Atalji had changed his middle name from Bihari to Behari, and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had added an extra a just in time before the 2001 Assembly elections (which she won to become CM). Here in Karnataka, my predecessor Kumaaraswamy had added an extra a in his name and tasted political success. In light of this, and our political reversal last month (when JD(U) initially declined to support us), I began contemplating a name change. It was then that my astrologer suggested replacing the i in my name with a d. Thus, Yediyurappa became Yeddyurappa, and I’ve now become CM!
Q: What are your plans for the state?
A: My astrologer has advised me that Anugraha (Karnataka CM’s official residence) flouts some rules of Vastu Shastra, so my first task after being sworn in on Monday would be to redesign Anugraha. I’ve already discussed this with an architect friend from the party who has promised to finish the redesign in a month. Simultaneously, I’ll introduce a bill in the Assembly to demolish the adjacent Cauvery house. It has brought nothing but ill-luck to its occupants, and I wouldn’t want such an ill-omen in close proximity to my residence. (I hope the Tamil Nadu Government will not misinterpret this gesture as a coded message on the Cauvery water dispute)
We also plan to revolutionize the educational system in Karnataka. Murli Manohar Joshi-ji has kindly consented to preside over a newly constituted committee to design an astrology curriculum for students of all ages — from high-school to university.
Q: What are your thoughts on the communal situation in Karnataka?
A: Elections aren’t due until April 2009, so I’ve strictly instructed my partymen to not indulge in any large-scale violence against Muslims (and if they do, to at least not gloat about it to an outsider) for the time being.
Q: Your thoughts on the Tehelka expose.
A: I do not want to comment on it, it’s an internal matter of the sovereign state of Gujarat. I mean, the law will take its own course. This interview is over.
Three months after his controversial comments advocating American bombing of Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama today calling for a regime change in Pakistan. “We’ve given Musharraf $6 billion in security-related assistance since 2001, but the return on investment has been sub-par to say the least. If he is not up to the job, we have to find someone who is”, Obama said, and castigated the Bush administration for what the NYT referred to as the belief that “a power-sharing deal with Ms. Bhutto might be the only way that General Musharraf could keep from being toppled“.
Obama’s comments took most of the assembled reporters by surprise, but veteran political commentators saw an attempt at an image-makeover. One of them explained: “You see, Obama faces a tough match-up against Clinton. He needs to show the American people that he can act tough, that he won’t be averse to deploying tens of thousands of American youth in never-ending wars. Three months ago, he goofed up big time when he said he’s open to negotiating with dictators. And he is still making amends.”
Meanwhile, a source close to the Democratic Leadership Council expressed impatience at Obama’s softness vis-a-vis the terrorists. The source noted: “Obama’s campaign has suffered from a series of missteps, and his call for a regime change in Pakistan is probably the only silver lining so far. He now needs to show this was no flash in the pan, and toughen up on Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. I don’t want to be too harsh on Obama, and am certainly glad he’s no Kucinich, but if you want to match-up to Rudy (Guiliani), you better come up with plans for some preemptive wars.”
While some in the Obama camp felt a hawkish posture could alienate people of color, others were more optimistic. “For one thing, critics can’t call him racist — one of the main accusations against the incumbent”, one of them triumphantly observed. “For this reason, I think the business class would much rather prefer a black handler than a white one, someone who can go hard at people of color and illegal immigrants without worrying about the dreaded R word (racist).” Another one angrily retorted: “But they can sure call him a House Negro, and with good reason!”
While not always cordial, the spirit of discussion and debate — so integral to a successful democracy — is alive and well in the Obama camp. And this can only augur well for the future.
Christian evangelical leader Pat Robertson gave a big boost to Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential bid calling him an “acceptable candidate … who can win the general election.” A shared affliction with prostate cancer and loathing of Islamofascism is believed to be behind the surprising endorsement.
“I still hold homosexuality and abortion as the prime causes of the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, and that the recent fires in Southern California were a warning from the Lord (as to the kind of raging fires that burn in hell and devour such sinners), but wouldn’t hold against Rudy his softness on these issues”, the Reverend clarified.
On his part, Giuliani welcomed the endorsement and renewed his commitment to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. “I might not hold daily monologues with God like President Bush does, but I do believe in God and look up to Him for guidance and for help”, he said.
While neither side mentioned it, Venezuela adds an intriguing subtext to this alliance. In August 2005, Robertson gave a call to “take out” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Stung by the criticism that followed, he subsequently rescinded the assassination call but sources close to him say his views on Chavez remain unchanged. One of them explained: “The Reverend has become increasingly disillusioned with the Venezuelan people, and is convinced they cannot install a democracy on their own. He has also given up on the Venezuelan Supreme Court — freeing the coup planners was perhaps its crowning moment of glory. When he broached this issue with Giuliani, the former NYC Mayor said he doesn’t have much control over the Venezuelan judiciary but committed to leaving no stone unturned to introduce democracy in Venezuela. Since then, the Reverend seems to have gotten a spring in his step. He often ends his sermons with a cryptic message: We all know what happened to Allende.”
Not surprisingly, the Reverend’s endorsement has caused tremors in the Republican camp. “Every once in a while, I am left speechless,” Senator John McCain said. “This is one of those times.”
Fellow contender Governor Mitt Romney looked forlorn and desolate, and repeatedly muttered “How? Why?”. University of Massachusetts political scientist John Wayne was equally at a loss for an explanation, and reminded that Ann Romney’s shared love for horses with the Reverend was expected to tilt the scales in her husband’s favor. “Venezuela couldn’t have been a difference-maker, since Romney is as committed to democracy as anyone else”, he observed. The Massachusetts Governor had indeed issued a statement this July condemning Chavez’s “assault on democratic institutions and his people’s freedom” and urged “the friends of freedom in Latin America to speak clearly and forcefully to defend liberty, democracy and human rights”. McCain has been equally critical of Chavez, accusing him of using “the cloak of electoral legitimacy to establish a one-party dictatorship in Venezuela.”
A Giuliani supporter sought to put a stop to all speculation: “We know President Bush talks to God daily. So does the Reverend. Perhaps they had a four-way conversation call where God anointed America’s Mayor as Bush’s successor, and chose the Reverend as His Messenger. It’s only in Godless America that we would deny this and instead discuss the issue ad nauseam”. Perhaps.
In a nationally televised speech aired on November 3, 2007, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf explained his firm resolve to arrest what he called “the saddest part of everything that saddens me the most” — the recent “downward trend” [in] Pakistan’s upsurge“. A tense looking Musharraf asserted that “inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan” and that martial law is Mashallah (what Allah wishes). Television networks were ordered off the air immediately after the President’s speech.
“My first coup eight years ago was the first step in the transition toward democracy in Pakistan, and this coup is the culmination of that process. Pakistan needs my iron hand to progress toward democracy, stepping down this late in the transition process would only aid our enemies“, the President said. Alluding to criticism from the West, the President noted that those who wage war to make peace should find no contradiction in his actions. Dictatorship in the pursuit of democracy is no vice, he defiantly declared.
He castigated the Pakistani opposition for misusing its civil liberties, and the Supreme Court for taking the notion of judicial independence too seriously. “Allah is watching you all“, he warned. “Perhaps Pakistan needs a Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice“, he casually added, perhaps as a reaction to the alarmingly high presence of women amongst the protestors.
Knowledgeable sources close to the President revealed “he is kicking himself” for not finishing off former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who he once had on the mat on treason (and tax evasion) charges. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is reportedly alarmed at the President’s repeated use of “conviction” in his address to the nation. She has apparently taken this as a veiled threat from Musharraf to either put up with martial law or face conviction on corruption charges (which he had recently annulled).
Reaction from the West has been muted so far, with only President Bush venturing to advice his Pakistani counterpart.