UP Elections 2022: Muslim Perspective

  • Fasih Ahmed/ Lucknow/ 16 Aug 2021

The common buzz on the streets and bylanes of Uttar Pradesh is that this most populous and the fifth largest muslim inhabited State perpetually remains in a mood and mode of election, although the hustings chessboard may formally be laid out once every five years or in the event of midway expiry of the term of government through constitutional overrides, whichever is earlier.

Accordingly, the bugle (conch shell would be more appropriate in the current scheme of things) for 2022 UP Vidhan Sabha Elections has been sounded for the battle to begin soon! With elections barely six months away, the frenetic activity has already commenced, with all the pawns, rooks and bishops coming out of their closet donning their respective caste, creed and religious armour to join the battle.

Uttar Pradesh has never divorced itself from caste and religion based politics with each party flaunting its own captive voter base, while experimenting on social engineering to ‘temporarily’ expand its electorate by nibbling into various ethnoreligious and caste based ‘vote banks’ often reconfirming the validity of the age old idiom; ‘strange bedfellows’. Thus before every election one comes to witness BSP wooing upper castes, BJP running to impress Dalits, SP and Congress attempting to reclaim their hold upon Muslims.

Considering that UP has a sizeable 19.3% muslim population concentrated in certain specific geographies to effectively swing the electoral outcome, their ‘vote bank’ assumes great importance. If one analyses the muslim clusters, Bijnor, Shamli, Amroha, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Balrampur have over 40% muslim population with Rampur and Moradabad exceeding the half way mark. Lucknow, the State capital itself has around 22% muslims, which makes them ‘very important players’ for all parties as extremely useful/ usable resource to sway the results in favour of whoever can secure/ divide their votes.

While SP, BSP and Congress attempt to consolidate the muslim vote in their favour, BJP benefits in dividing them, thereby reducing their ‘sting’.

The question is do the muslims actually vote en bloc? While some political pundits call it a myth, others feel that the muslims can be politically influenced to vote en masse. The truth lies somewhere in between, with a definitive caveat that by and large in recent times and this time in particular, going by the chatter in social media and emerging muslim groups, the prevalent mood is to vote for any party/candidate who is opposed to BJP, having witnessed enough of alienation at the hands of the ruling dispensation.

However, there is a sectarian angle too that cannot be discounted; the inter sect rivalry between Shias and Sunnis. There have been reports of open wooing of Shia community by BJP ever since Yogi Adityanath came to power, with a view to separate them from the bloc. Much against BJP’s stated stance, Mohsin Raza a hitherto nondescript politician was given a berth in UP cabinet and controversial Waseem Rizvi provided ‘Y’ category security. Similarly a small section of Shias under the banner of Hussaini Tigers have shown open support to BJP. Two years ago Bhukkal Nawab another small time local politician quit SP and joined BJP, floating his own outfit called Rashtriya Shia Samaj (RSS).   

There is also an unconfirmed view among muslim individuals, groups and social influencers that probably Asad Uddin Owaisi’s AIMIM is a mere ‘B’ Team of BJP, meant only to scatter and divide Muslim votes. One can hear silent rumination to impress upon voters to avoid falling prey to AIMIM overtures as the party has no political locus standi in UP.

Yet another aspect that may affect muslim voting pattern is the divide within the large Sunni community that has sharp and often exploitable internal differences between minority Deobandis (the Indian version of Saudi wahabism/ salafism) and Barelvis the esoteric Sufi order of Islam which has around 80% UP muslim adherents. Respective clergy have played a major role in influencing the voters of both sub sects, mostly for personal/institutional political gains and largesse bestowed to them by the parties to win over their support. This time however, the clergy and civil society have plenty of fodder to prepare the voter against BJP candidates, highlighting the lynchings in the past, the rampant misuse of the bogey of love jihad, the hounding of jamatis, the gross mismanagement during Covid second wave, the police and administration’s ruthlessness against anti CAA protestors comprising both liberal hindus and muslims. The latest being the beating up of a muslim by hindutva activists in Kanpur on 12 August in the presence of a muted police.   

A quick stock take of UP politics post Babri Masjid demolition shows a steady rise of Hindutva politics and the associated fast tracking of polarisation, until its culmination in Yogi Adityanath occupying the High Chair. 2017 thus became a watershed for BJP and UP politics. Pre 2017 was a period of a BJP with acceptable local faces in Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra, while post 2017 is being perceived as extremely virulent. So disenchanted are the muslims in UP against the ruling dispensation that even people like Mukhtar Ansari and Ateeq who would have been taken as normal criminals during any other rule, are now being perceived by the community as falsely targeted ‘muslim faces’!  

Notwithstanding having been repeatedly fooled by false promises muslims have always voted like any other segment, keeping their aspirations in mind; their basic needs being no different from the rest of the demography, though getting influenced by local seminary bigwigs and respective party influencers including the pre 2017 BJP.  It may not be wrong to say that BJP won a mandate, it did, due to a good number of muslims voting for it. The confirmation lies in the BJP candidate winning even in Deoband in 2017.  

Today, in the absence of any central galvanising leadership, it may not be incorrect to assume that once again the muslim voters will by and large get influenced by the ‘sweet talk’ from various parties endorsed by the respective clergy, of which bulk benefit, as it appears, is likely to go to SP provided Akhilesh Yadav steps out of his comfort zone. He must realise he is not perceived as benevolent as Mulayam Singh Yadav in the eyes of the traditional muslim voter! On the other hand, Mayawati has always been looked at with suspicion by the community for her previous forays with BJP. She may however, once again experiment fielding large number of muslim candidates to woo voters.

But this time around, courtesy penetrative social media, even at the cost of abundant fake and motivated circulations, the average voter even in remote regions is reasonably well informed about the agenda driven delineation and targeting of muslims by the incumbent party, which will be at the back of his finger when he presses the EVM button. The Hobson’s choice thus gets reduced to SP and Congress of which, bulk of muslims feel that Congress unable to outgrow its past glory, is far too elitist in its political culture with a near non-existent contemporary political substance, hence it will at best remain a spoiler like AIMIM. That leaves SP as the forerunner.  

Come the ides of march circa 2022 and one will get to know how actually, the wind blows! (EOM)       

Nursery of Military Leadership

  • Col Fasih Ahmed/Lucknow/27 Jul 2021

We were barely old enough to be called men, young men maybe. We came from all corners of India, from diverse cultures and families, followers of myriad philosophies and different religions, speaking different languages yet all understood the innate subtleties of body language. There was one thing in common though, we had all beaten the rigorous selection system to be found fit to become leaders of men, albeit after training at the military academy.

Train? Oh hell! we did, as we ran, sweat, bled, rode, dived, swam, boxed, climbed, jumped, rolled up and downhill, laughed, cried, wondered, abused, played, fought, hugged and did almost everything possible with the human body. Well, almost everything. We never got a chance to ‘bite the forbidden fruit’, although we did occasionally enjoy the liberty to silently let our imaginations run wild, often discussing our fantasies as inquisitive teenagers in hushed tones amongst peers, without overstepping the boundaries of gentlemanliness drummed so fastidiously into us. Amidst all this benign playfulness, we did not discern that from this cerebral mayhem emerged the familial bonds of camaraderie, friendship and brotherhood, which were to last a lifetime. As our careers in the ‘O Gees’ dawned, we left the academy starry eyed, and…and starry shouldered too, to chalk out our own paths and destinies. Life had just about begun. Much was to happen hereafter, the moment we reached our regiment/unit/paltan//risala that was to become our home (kutumbhakam) for generations to come and perhaps afterlife too.

As times passed by, we began growing professionally, we led men in games. And we led them in combat. Some lost limbs, some escaped death, some were not so lucky, some got awarded, some got promoted while some got overlooked. Supersession brought momentary anger, misgivings too, but petered out with little or no rancour. Some hung their boots for greener pastures, some simply to uphold their so very sensitive military honour in a vertical hierarchy. Most of us grew as we moved along. Marriage happened and we became parents to new born, growing and in due course grown up children and grand-children. We made new friends while losing some in the precipitous crests and troughs of our roller coaster journey. Busy in our careers, we met sometimes and talked of the days spent together in trenches and bunkers, in sand boxes and snow storms, under gunfire, inside hot and burning interiors of tanks and ICVs (infantry combat vehicles). And at times even in seven star officers’ messes with liveried aabdars (bar tenders) in attendance. In fact, whenever and wherever we met we only talked of the days gone by! We laughed at our naïveté, we laid bare those hidden folds of naughtiness sharing little secrets collected over years, exchanging trivia about each other, some frigging old gossip. Oh what sublime fun!

Today, at the dusk of military life, as the curtains come to a draw, when some have lost their hair while some have lost their odd tooth (or maybe teeth), I reminisce with somewhat wet eyes that we were, after all, a pretty fine bunch of youngsters who could do the unthinkable for upholding the proverbial naam, namak, nishan (identity derived from nationhood and unit, fidelity towards the nation and paltans’ salt and the tricolor or Regimental standard) and how the academy and our grooming units bonded us into one cohesive and inseparable high octane team. A band of brothers, ‘A Few Good Men’ for whom the phrase “cannot be done” did not exist!

Even today, after having completed umpteen orbits around the sun, we love to argue, fight, discuss, help, share, crib, cry and laugh together, as we would, in those days. We share images formed out of pixels etched deep in our kaleidoscopic memories, we wish each other birthdays and anniversaries, share the exploits of our children, rejoice the birth of a grand-child and grieve the passing away of a family member, whom we may or may have never met.

What else could have bonded us this way, but our dear old olive green alma mater turned abode! Sometimes when I ruminate of the good old times, I wonder if life could have ever been so blessed without my mates in arms. The cocoon that held and steered me through life. The cocoon that now resides inside me. Er… my cradle!

Post Script: Dedicated to my two decorated units 40 Medium Regiment (Self Propelled), Asal Uttar (Roaring Forty) where I got commissioned & 141 Field Regiment, Kargil (One For One) where I hung my boots.

Religion and the Indian Army

-Col Fasih Ahmed/ Lucknow/26Jul 2021

Location:  Naraingarh near Nahan, Himachal Pradesh.

Date: Summer of 1989

My self-propelled artillery battery was being put through an exercise codenamed ‘Catch 22’. An annual training ritual conducted to test fighting echelons’ fitness for war. For whatever reasons this exercise may have been so named, but it did, momentarily become a catch 22 for us! The assessing officer, a dapper Punjabi brigadier was scheduled to observe us go through tactical maneuvers after listening in to Battery Commander’s (my) briefing. As is customary in mechanised regiments a short puja is organised, followed by slamming of coconut on the hull of the command tank by big B (assessing officer), before physical startup.

It was three o’clock in the morning and everything appeared perfect, when my subedar a huge Coorgi boxer broke the news that the unit panditji was down with a serious bout of dysentery and needed evacuation to MH Ambala. That was quickly arranged, but it left me in a fix about the startup puja due in three hours. Unfazed, my subedar sahib, a man for all seasons, comforted me that alternate arrangements had been made and I should just concentrate on the tactical conduct of Catch22.

The brigadier arrived exactly at the first ray of sun and after customary salutations my briefing commenced. Without much ado, a few questions, langar pakoras and chai later, we proceeded to my much loved soviet T55 fuel guzzler for puja and a grand ‘tee off’. I almost froze seeing Naik Verghese in dhoti kurta masquerading as panditji, with a samagri thali in hand, standing next to my mean machine, all ready to commence the puja vidhi. I observed a similar bewildered look on my (Christian) Commanding Officer’s face who had also recognised Verghese, since both being natives of Alleppey attended the same Church. Anyway, now that we had presented our ‘broadside’ (sitting duck in mechanised warfare parlance), we had little options but to redeem ourselves as battle worthy.

The moment the Brigade Commander reached the puja sthal my surrogate panditji commenced the ritual, chanting mantras in all reverence to sheer brahmanical perfection, while I stood by his side wearing a camouflaged grin. The puja went perfect including the ‘aarti’ that we could chant by the rote. Fortunately the coconut also split in one go without embarrassing the big boss, safeguarding his vanity!

No sooner than my havildar major let out our ancient Tamil battle cry ‘VETRIVEL VEERAVEL’ (victory to courageous), I raised my right arm; Rotating my index finger, signaled all tank engines to startup, thanking god for having showered jit (just in time) such ‘major mercy’, only to be woken up from my short lived happiness. So impressed was the Brigadier with Verghese that he requested me to send Panditji (Verghese) to his house for a planned havan coming Sunday!

Post Script: Verghese an Orthodox Syriac Christian had spent a long time assisting the unit panditji in the affairs of regimental mandir. He was thus not only fully conversant with the rituals, but had also by-hearted all the common puja mantras.

The Brigade Commander was politely explained our predicament to which, he jocularly complimented that he never knew his Christian CO and Muslim battery commander could ‘manufacture’ such a perfect panditji!

72 hours later, we were graded FIT FOR WAR, thanks to the timely invocation of Lord Rama, Jesus, Lord Ayyappa, Wahe Guru and Allah, all (rightly) rolled into one, by messiah Verghese, thus ending our Catch 22!

Mini Drone: A Prized Weapon in Terror Arsenal

Fasih Ahmed/ Lucknow/ 25 July 2021

The latest toy (both figuratively and actually speaking) to reach the hands of terror perpetrators happens to be the innocent looking miniaturised drone that has over the years flooded the market with multifarious commercially attractive applications from mere fun flying to aerial photography, eves-dropping and merchandise delivery, overriding the paradox that technological utility of any innovation seldom differentiates between good and bad. Evidently most technology demonstrators land in bad hands almost simultaneously.

Although the evolution of drones is not new since the progress and refinement of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for military applications has been work-in-progress since over half a century, with ever increasing utility in a techno intensive battlefield. The development process has seen generational improvements in avionics, stealth, command and guidance, endurance, payload, artificial intelligence (AI) interface and above all micro-miniaturisation.

Call it quirk or irony of fate, three weeks back, the day DRDO tested its multi-million dollar nuclear capable Agni P ballistic missile, two innocuous remotely piloted mini drones hit our Jammu Air Force Station, with the audacity to threateningly loiter again the next day over Kaluchak, Jammu, opening a new paradigm of low cost remotely delivered aerial attacks. Post-strike piecing of information suggests their origin to be the usual suspects: Pakistan.

Such a possibility should have long been foreseen, considering how exponentially mini drones have permeated the battle space and market during the past more than a decade, discounting the earlier long range UAVs delivering precision munitions remotely inside various conflict zones from thousands of miles away, earning for themselves not so pleasant a sobriquet of ‘joystick assassins’.

The easy to assemble mini versions have been quite liberally used by Syrians and ISIS in Aleppo and Iraq, Hezbollah in Beka Valley as early as 2004. The Iranian ‘Ababil’ mini drones over Israeli airspace sometime in 2006. Although the main weaponry used by Houthi rebels on Saudi ARAMCO facility in Sep 2019 were the QUDS-2 ballistic missiles, a subsequent damage assessment indicated that Iranian Shahed 129 drones supposedly a copy of Israeli Hermes drones were also used mounting Sadid 345 precision guided missile, a near step cousin to Israeli Spike missiles that we also possess. Earlier this year there were reports of Russians and Ukrainians using familiar looking quadcopters for grenade launch and home-rigged air delivered anti-personnel explosives against each other. Similarly, there were also reports of a Chinese DJI phantom, accidentally crashing inside the high security premises of White House.

With such intense exploitation of drone technology across the length and breadth of the ‘violence’ canvass, it is imperative for our own counter terror force to not only expect such attacks but also put in place means to mitigate such risks.  

Although not much is known about our preparedness, but whatever little lies in open source indicates that India holds about a hundred odd Harop (kamikaze) drones, which, as the name suggests, are an offensive variety  nicknamed ‘loitering munitions’ or suicide drones, besides older Herons. Some sources also indicate that another 54 are being purchased to beef up the inventory. In addition the ongoing DRDO’s Project Rustom (nishant and tapas UAVs) is said to be developing Rustom-H MALE (medium altitude long endurance) drone, to replace Herons. So while the army appears preparing for generalised larger drone warfare, the newer challenge of locally assembled micro and mini weapon platforms has put the ‘law enforcers’ at a serious deficit as was witnessed in Jammu. Added to this is the market inundation of toy drones particularly the cheap Chinese variety that have been selling unchecked despite 2018 formulated DGCA Rules that lay down mandatory licencing for all drones other than ‘nano’ (250 gms) variety such as Chinese DJI and assortment of nano quadcopters. Experts however, believe that despite regulatory mechanisms it is near impossible to check rogue drones that can/are being sold and used at will. The market size of UAVs in India this year alone is estimated at $900mn.

Imagine the devastating effect of a remotely delivered toy carrying a couple of kilograms of explosive packed with shrapnel in a crowded public place. It gets further scary if one factors a futuristic possibility of strapping radiological, biological or chemical payload!

The Jammu incident is therefore a wakeup call to find effective techniques (jammers, netting screens) &/or harnessing directed energy technology (electro-dynamic braking circuits, laser, microwave etc.), besides rudimentary kinetic means to locate and destroy these tiny lethal weapons in flight! Remember, this grey market weaponry is well within reach of Pakistan state and deep state!

(The writer is a former Colonel Indian Army. Post retirement headed security for an Oil & Gas major in the conflict zones of Middle East and has witnessed the destructive potential of a predator MQ1drone delivered hellfire strike in Yemen)

Tinkering With The Band Format of Beating the Retreat

Fasih Ahmed/ 30 Jan 2020

Regular armies across the world breathe through their traditions. And, traditions are NOT overnight creations, but an acceptability quotient spanning generations and in some cases Ages. So tinkering with traditions is like besmirching the collective soul of any Institution, particularly that of soldiers, who develop the capacity to live by and even die, by simply abiding to the established military traditions, while doing the ‘unthinkable’ demanded of them repeatedly.

The hymn ‘Abide with Me’ cast on an ethereal composition, therefore, may have a Christian character, but its content is unmistakably universal in addressing man’s fears, hope and aspirations towards an ‘unknown’ afterlife. The lyrics have a visceral appeal like many other verses from almost all religious texts that we keep chanting as expressions of pure thought transcending our own respective religions. So, I do not become any less a follower of Islam when I use the Biblical quote “His work is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4) or my very frequent full throated invocation of the lilting aarti in my unit mandir. Similarly can my Hindu/ Christian friends become any less Hindu/Christian respectively by randomly using InshaAllah (God willing) in their speech.

And that happens to be our (military) ethos that bonds all of us diverse creations into united beings, called soldiers. It is this very ethos that stands preserved through a combine of motely traditions.  Take the universal appeal of  Guru Granth Sahib’s “Ik onkar, satnaam kartaa purakh nirbhau nirvair akaal moorat” or any of our sublime yet fierce battle cries: jai mahakaali, jai bajrangbali, jo bolë so nihaal or the quintessential har har mahadev. Some Grenadiers’ troops even chant allah o akbar (God is Great) as their war cry. They have all been the traditional ‘spine’ of our armed forces.

I strongly agree with Col Noel’s lament that; even though in modern warcraft there may appear little worth, yet can we ever think of divorcing pageantry from any contemporary military? Even militias adopt and ‘religiously’ follow them!

Almost after half a century gone by, I like all others before and after me feel goose bumps recalling the coveted passing out parade on the heart rending and chest swelling composition of ‘Saare jahañ se achha Hindustañ hamara..’ or the ever mesmerizing ‘Auld lang syne‘ while taking the ‘Antim Pag’ (Final Step) !

Similarly can the essentially ‘foreign’ Last Post or Rouse (despite its subtle Christian reference to the day of Judgement) be ever substituted?

Cynical a soldier that I am, I would oft say “over my dead body”! However, it has come as a momentary relief that the Ministry of Defence, for the moment,has decided not to discontinue this hymn from the national musical soiree of ‘Beating the Retreat’, astride Raisina Hill watched and heard across the globe, announcing the close of our Republic Day Celebrations each year. A hymn so dear to countless of us. And above all The Father of The Nation!

Moment of Truth

Driving across Banihal Pass into the valley in full battle order, as we first entered Srinagar for Operation Rakshak to occupy our AOR (area of responsibility) in Uri, I got this uncanny feeling that my boys were a trifle uneasy due to the eerie silence occasionally broken by sudden eruption of gunfire, so characteristic of insurgency prone regions. A typical ‘lull before the storm’ kind of unsettling feeling!

This 21st day of May 1991, was like any other day I had experienced and was fairly familiar from my previous field tenure, barely six months ago along the super high altitude reaches (18000 feet above MSL) of McMahon line or LAC (Line of actual control), separating Indian mainland in North Sikkim from Chinese occupied TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region), except that by nightfall BBC was beaming across the news of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in some remote Tamil Nadu geography called Sriperumbudur, which kept us glued to our radio, adding further gloom to our unsettled boys. We had instructions to park for the night in an open space near Srinagar airfield, before resuming our journey ahead early next morning.  

We could hardly manage a wink of sleep as we got busy checking and rechecking our weaponry, ammunition and other stores carted to sustain ourselves in this apparent hostile locale as we were to clear the area before sunrise and proceed to our respective destinations in separate directions.

We experienced our first firefight near the Srinagar airfield & the second enroute to Pattan from Srinagar on our very first day of onward journey post arrival in the valley, which had kind of baptized us to what lay ahead and also anaesthetized us to the possible consequences. I must confess that by the time we reached Uri, the fear of unforeseen and the possible loss of a comrade/colleague/ brother had started to bother me like hell. My own fate was something that was of least concern because of the Chetwodean motto so deeply inscribed upon our conscience at the Academy.

The safety and welfare of your Country comes first, always and every time.

The safety and welfare of your troops comes next. And your own safety 

Comes last, always and every time!”

Field Marshal Sir Phillip Chetwode

Nonetheless the scare was becoming noticeably contagious and I was left with little option but to do something dramatic soon, to overcome this ‘weakness’. My own restlessness got further aggravated because of my solitude. My three young officers Sanjay, Anil and Narendra (names changed) had ‘married up’ (military term for link up) with their respective infantry battalions deployed along the LoC (Line of Control), leaving me alone at the battery gun position on an isolated ledge in Uri with Jhelum gurgling menacingly below. My officers would routinely call up on radio every morning and evening to share situation/occurrence reports or during nasty exchange of fire with ‘friends’ sitting across, which was commonplace.

Anyway, under such clouded cerebral ecology, one morning before the road opening and area denial patrols were slated to deploy, I gathered my troops for a pep talk and asked them randomly what in their opinion was the biggest fear bothering all of us? And before anyone could reply I myself answered ‘death’ isn’t it? There was a silent affirmation. Almost instantly and unprepared I unzipped the front of my disruptive para jacket, opened my shirt buttons and punctured a hole in my vest with a lighted cigarette, (my boys knew well, how heavy a smoker I was, then!) leaving a burnt blackened bullet hole replica over my heart. I announced, mundyoñ (buddys) if this is the maximum that can happen, why must we keep imagining that it is actually happening. Jis din hoga, saala dekha jayega, roz roz uski kaamna kyun karna! (We will catch the bloody bull by its horns, the day it actually happens, why keep anticipating its arrival daily!) This little ‘melodrama’ somehow worked and had a profound effect not only on my audience, but upon me as well. 

We ended up that day, cheerful and all charged up with a new zeal amidst a hot cup of chai, langar ke chatpate pakoré and halwa, (hot cup of tea and spicy eateries straight from the field kitchen) rejuvenated to live, work, sing, joke, smile, laugh and even cry together to ward off ‘real’ and not imagined pain as it came, hereafter. In one stroke we had seized the day! Carpe diem moment it was!

Our moment of truth it became for the rest of our stay inside the conflict zone. 

More than thirty years since that 21st day of summer of ’91, having experienced its sublime meaning helping me work through some of the most dangerous situations and geographies of the world, I am convinced that the human mind is a repository of a whole lot of internalized coping mechanisms. Be it force majeure, war or pandemic that we face today, all one has to do is to get inside one’s own skin, ride over momentary fears and search for a customized unfailing recipe for survival. Godspeed! 

Post Script: (In Covid times)

Find your coping mechanisms. They need not be as ‘theatrical’ as mine. There are many tucked inside you. Break the shackles Go, dance in wild abandon, sing in a full throated voice as if a thousand people are admiring your concert, reimagine your school days’ first crush, recall your joy when dad gave you your first fountain pen hugging you as his ‘big’ girl. Relive the moment of ultimate joy, blush and ecstasy when you heard about your attaining motherhood/ fatherhood, imagine yourself skydiving or driving alongside Schumacher on F1 race track, There are so many reasons of exultation within you imaginary or real, each a repository of umpteen coping mechanisms. Dive in and swim with them!