In a rare moment of decisive action the Indian government hanged Ajmal Kasab, the surviving Pakistani terrorist from the 2008 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  The last couple of years have seen tedious posts in this blogger’s Facebook feed with friends whining that the Indian government managed to do _____, “BUT KASAB IS STILL ALIVE.”  A few weeks ago when Kasab fell ill in prison with rumors of dengue fever, snarky comments that a mosquito may manage to do what the Indian government could not proliferated.

The reality is that there never was much chance of Kasab receiving a reprieve from the hangman.  He was captured on photograph participating in the Mumbai attacks.  He had been abandoned by his home country Pakistan.  Even with India’s reluctance to use the death penalty, no Indian government would have dared to pardon the most notorious criminal in Indian custody.  It was only a matter of time before the bloodlust of the mob was sated.

While no tears need to be shed for his fate, Ajmal Kasab was merely the vicious tool of murderous masters.  The Pakistani terrorists in the 26/11 attacks received their instructions from handlers in Pakistan – almost certainly handlers from Pakistan’s rogue spy agency the ISI.  The wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba that supplied Kasab and his terrorist brethren from Pakistan’s lost underbelly has merely changed its name and its leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed still roams free.

Pakistan reluctantly admitted the nationality of Kasab, but has done little else to curb its support of terrorism as a tool of state policy.  The aftermath of the Osama Bin Laden raid has pushed some of these activities underground for now but nothing has been done to curb the flow of available recruits to the terrorist recruiting mills.  Even the outrage over the Malala Yousafzai attack has not led to any concrete steps on the ground.

Pakistan is essentially a failed state.  Its state security agencies still shelter the Taliban and Kashmiri jihadist fronts.  Its policies towards its neighbors on the west and the east are largely negative.  Its corrupt civilian government has little legitimacy.  The judiciary appears to have overreached and has lost the heroic halo from its role in bringing down the Musharraf dictatorship.  The army has indicated that it is not subject to any civilian oversight.  The state has no control over large parts of the tribal north-west.  Rebellion simmers in Baluchistan.  Nobody seems to have any control over what the ISI is up to.

Indians woke up today to the news that Ajmal Kasab has been hanged.  While they celebrate they should remember that his ISI handlers still roam free.

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Posted on 20-11-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

“Vae, puto deus fio” (Dear me, I must be turning into a god.)

– The emperor Vespasian on his deathbed.

One wonders whether Bal Thackeray (obituary here) uttered some similar sentiments.  Evidently the Maharashtra police seem to think that a new deity has been added to the Hindu pantheon.  In the latest assault of free speech in India, a mild Facebook rant and a Facebook like ended with the arrest of two students.  The “offensive” post questioned why the whole city of Mumbai was forced to shut down on the death of a private citizen when national heroes were ignored.  The resulting criminal charge was “hurting religious sentiments” of Thackeray’s followers who followed up the police complaint by ransacking an orthopedic clinic run by the original poster’s uncle – which does bring up the question why Shiv Sena goons keep trashing hospitals…but i digress.  The terrified young women have withdrawn the post and apologized for the temerity of engaging in free speech.

Indian civil society and social media is now up in arms and the state government has promised strict punishment “if the policemen are found guilty” – i.e. nothing will happen.  The Shiv Sena thugs are typically unrepentant.   India has lately been showing a depressing tendency to crack down in free speech on social media.  Many colonial era laws enacted to suppress dissent have been retained by India after independence to preserve communal harmony.  The result is a thin skinned populace that runs to the police every time anything remotely offensive gets uttered.

This is creates a mockery of India’s guarantee of free speech. As previously noted on this blog, freedom of speech implies the freedom to offend – otherwise it would not be a freedom that needed codifying.  In India, thin skinned crybabies are using loosely drafted laws to suppress any dissent.  This is rapidly becoming a gut-check moment for Indian democracy.  Will it retain the liberal free speech traditions embodied in its constitution and encouraged by its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru?  Or will it continue down the road traveled by his grandson Rajiv Gandhi – whose government was the first to ban Rushdie’s Satanic Verses?

So far India’s vibrant civil society has loudly challenged such free speech violations.  Yet India’s politicians and their (sometimes uniformed) thugs continue to persist in such conduct.  Without stringent electoral and legal consequences for such acts, Indian free speech will remain under siege.

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Posted on 20-11-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

He was originally a cartoonist by trade.  He never held political office.  He was reviled, hated and feared by millions.  Yet the death of Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray brought India’s commercial capital Mumbai to a standstill.  Two million people (including many of India’s film, commercial and political elite) attended his funeral which included state honors and a 21 gun salute.  The state of Maharashtra was shut down, partly from respect and more so from fear of his thuggish followers.

Thackeray’s claim to fame and power was his political party the Shiv Sena which he founded in 1966.  His virulently anti-communist party was originally encouraged by the state’s ruling Congress Party as a rival to Mumbai’s dominant communist trade unions. It was also a nativist regional party that tapped into the resentment of native Maharashtrians who felt displaced by immigrants from the rest of India (particularly South Indian Tamils, Marwaris and Gujaratis).  It also aggressively embraced Hindu causes and engaged in Muslim baiting.

The Sena’s rise to power was steady, winning control of the Bombay municipal corporation in the 1980s and the Maharashtra state government (in alliance with the BJP) in the 1990s.  However, the Sena could not stay at top of the peak.  Power brought factional infighting and later a split as Thackeray designated his surviving son Uddhav as his successor instead of his thuggish but more charismatic nephew Raj.  Raj Thackeray founded his own political party which split the Sena vote and prevented a return to power at the state level.

Thackeray attained national notoriety in the 1990s when his party was accused of causing the anti-Muslim Bombay riots in 1993.  Over the years he shocked the intelligentsia by professing admiration for Hitler and engaging in crude Muslim bashing.  He was even briefly stripped of his right to vote for soliciting votes with inflammatory statements.  Yet Thackeray had a strong base of support from blue collar Maharashtrians who benefited from social services from local Shiv Sena branches and appreciated a son of the soil party that vocally supported their interests.

Many educated Maharashtrians, like this blogger, had little use for the Shiv Sena.  The Sena displayed little tolerance for dissent and was notorious for using brute force and thuggery for perceived slights.  As an example, in 2001 after the death of Sena leader Anand Dighe in an accident its thugs ransacked and burnt down the state of the art hospital where he died.  The hospital has never been rebuilt and its shell still stands as a mute reminder of Sena thuggery.  When Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was banned in India, Thackeray told Muslims to learn how to take their lumps.  Yet when a later Rushdie book “The Moor’s Last Sigh” contained a caricature of Thackeray, it was banned in Mumbai to protect his sensitive feelings.

However as a cousin noted a few days ago, Thackeray was not that different than the chauvinistic regional chieftains in other Indian states.  The primary difference was the openness with which he uttered his prejudice and sent his thugs to suppress dissent.  He was the first man to give a legitimate alternative to the over-powerful Congress party in Maharashtra.  Yet in the grand scheme of things the influence of Thackeray and his ilk is largely negative to the Indian political fabric.  A country as diverse as India with political parties looking primarily and often solely to protect their parochial interest runs the risk of turning the country into the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In his last years, Thackeray was a bit of a defanged tiger.  His nephew Raj Thackeray had stolen much of the nativist thunder from the ailing old man.  He and not the designated heir Uddhav is likely to be the ultimate heir of Thackeray.  And so Balsaheb Thackeray’s legacy will live on.  How India manages to contain it will decide whether the Union of India survives or slowly splinters.

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