Politics / 05.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf For the Students and Faculty of JNU (After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s dar-e umiid ke daryuuza-gar) Cursing, hurling vile abuse They came to tarnish, ravish, debase Parade the tatters of our soul As emblems of their rule Hordes swarm the streets Goose-stepping, flaunting steel Threatening, intimidating those Who dare refuse to keel We collect the shreds they tore Dyed red in our blood Sew them back in a banner Bigger, brighter than before Faiz’s poem can be accessed in Urdu, Hindi, and Roman here. Back to Main Page...

Politics / 19.02.2016

By Anjum Altaf The ongoing row at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) reminded me of the following statement by Vir Sanghvi: “the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense” (The same people? Surely not). I am not convinced of this claim and believe that the underlying social and attitudinal propensities in both countries (towards violence, religion, and nationalism, for example) remain fairly alike. It is only accidents of time and place that lead to seemingly differing outcomes in the emergent landscapes. I explored this argument earlier in a couple of posts (How Not to Write History and Pakistanization of India?) and the response to the recent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) strengthens my conviction further. Despite its very different political trajectory, India is repeating the patterns observed in Pakistan albeit with a...

Politics / 11.01.2016

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan today is very different to what it was fifty years ago. An aspect that has changed significantly – literally turned on its head – is the nature of political and social activism, i.e., the very dynamic that leads to change in society. I describe this transformation based on my interactions with the young – as a student at the beginning of the period and as an instructor of students at its end. Needless to say, the majority in any society is content to swim with the tide. Members of this majority may hold opinions about desirable changes but they are not involved in the process of bringing them about. On the other hand, there is always a small minority of individuals who become actively engaged in efforts to change society. Such activists mobilize varying numbers of the majority for or against in different...

Politics / 30.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf My interpretation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Kuttey was published on 3 Quarks Daily on December 30, 2015 (here). Why Not even dogs Go as quietly as these men Battered and bruised Idle and begging Homeless and hearthless Stabbing each other o'er scraps Starving in silence Why What myth is it That keeps you Divided Amongst yourselves That keeps you Blind To your strength The original (in Urdu, Hindi, and Roman) can be seen here. Over the course of a life there are many who nudge you in one direction or another but very few who entirely alter its trajectory. In my experience I can count four, all encountered between the last two years at school and the first two years in college. Faiz Ahmed Faiz made me see the world beyond myself in a manner at once appealing and hopeful. Since then, Faiz has become a kind of Bible-substitute in all the manifestations of sight and sound. Three poems – Kuttey, Bol, and...

Politics / 17.12.2015

India and Pakistan are engaged in a high-stakes game in which the outcomes (and non-outcomes) are significant for many of the players involved. The essential ABCs of this game are well known; the finer XYZs are less obvious and I aim to address some of them in this article. It might be useful to treat the high-stakes game as just that – a game – and employ some of the features of game theory to better understand the situation. For those unfamiliar with game theory, here is a very brief orientation. We regularly engage in transactions in which our actions are independent of the actions of others and have no measurable impact on them either. If you go to the market to buy a cup of coffee you are engaging in this sort of a familiar independent action. There are other situations in which the choice of your action...

Politics / 07.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf India lags Pakistan in religious extremism but it seems both are headed for the same destination although by varying paths and with possibly different outcomes. Much attention has been drawn to the rising injection of religion into politics in India spurring a number of debates in the media. Is India being Pakistanized? Is Modi India’s Zia? What accounts for the phenomenon? Where will it end? These are some of the frequently heard questions. The dynamics of the phenomenon in the two countries appear similar but are actually different although there is an invisible underlying similarity that propels them in the same direction. A bedrock of religious prejudice exists in both countries available to be mined. In Pakistan, it has entered politics via concession and coercion while in India the drivers are manipulation and stealth. The paths in the two countries along which the phenomenon is...

Politics / 13.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf Could the 2015 state election in Bihar signify anything about the future of politics in India? It could, and I want to draw out that possibility by linking this analysis to a previous one related to the equally surprising outcome in Delhi earlier in the year (Electoral Choices). Very briefly, the point made was that while the BJPs share of the vote between the elections of 2014 and 2015 in Delhi remained the same, about a third, its share of the seats dropped sharply from 52 percent to 4 percent. This, it was argued, was a vagary of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method of election in vogue in a very few countries in which the candidate with a simple plurality of the votes in a constituency is declared the winner. Now look at the parallels in Bihar between the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha...

Politics / 25.10.2014

By Anjum Altaf In Pakistan, revolution is confused with revolt. A revolution sweeps away the old order; a revolt just replaces the faces at the top. As we have discovered, a revolt is not enough. No matter how often the system is restarted by new saviors, it converges to the same outcome that is compatible with the attributes of the old order. The principal attribute of the old order is stark social inequality in which the majority is dependent on a tiny minority for access to services and basic rights. This kind of hierarchical order is compatible with patron-client forms of governance which is really what we have had in the guise of democracy. Everything we observe confirms that our rulers consider themselves monarchs while the ruled think of themselves as subjects. Years ago I asked a peasant why they did not elect an honest representative instead of...

Politics / 26.08.2014

By Kabir Altaf For the last ten days, Pakistanis have been fascinated by the sit-ins occurring in Islamabad.  Led by Imran Khan (of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf) and Tahirul Qadri (of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik), the movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of the dominant Punjab Province.  The PTI is also calling for election reform and for the holding of midterm elections under a new caretaker government.  This anti-government movement has deeply polarized the country, particularly on social media.  Many young Pakistanis are supporting Khan’s demand for Sharif’s immediate resignation, arguing that the May 2013 general elections were massively rigged and that the PML-N does not have the people’s mandate.  Others argue that Sharif is the legitimately elected Prime Minister and that he cannot be forced to resign simply because a mob of 55,000...

Politics / 04.06.2014

Early on in Ulysses, Joyce has Stpehen Dedalus harking back to Aristotle and thinking the following thoughts: Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind. We are at that momentous point in South Asia where all of a sudden there is a burgeoning of potentialities only one of which will turn into reality – the actuality of the possible as possible in Aristotle’s formulation. I have no way of knowing which of those possibilities will become the reality we will look back on ten years from now....