The three-day Delhi adventure
I was in Delhi for three days from 2-5 September 2009. My objectives
were to attend a mass mobilization against WTO, to participate in a
planning meeting of the Food Sovereignty group of the South Asia
Alliance against Poverty Eradication (SAAPE), to participate in a
meeting of the Asian Caucus of Asia Europe Peoples Forum as well as to
catch up with the latest developments of South Solidarity. Later I
attended a planning meeting for a proposed Pak India peace conference.
Obtaining a Visa
When I applied for an Indian visa on 21st August 2009 in Lahore I was
not sure I would receive it in time. The Indian Consulate is in
Islamabad and one can apply through a courier service after fulfilling
all the required formalities. The courier service asked me to come back
5 October for my passport. This is normal; it takes at least one month's
time to process a visa. India verifies all credentials. For a Pakistani,
It is easier to go to Europe than to India.
Pakistanis cannot apply to India for a tourist visa. The only three
categories available for travel between the two countries are for
business, conferences or visiting relatives. Dr. Kamal Chenoy Mitra from
Jawahar Lal Nehro University Delhi (commonly known as JNU) had invited
me. This powerful invitation held the possibility of an early visa.
Zulfiqar Shah of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)
had sent me the name of a official at the Indian Consulate. But Mr.
Ready had been transferred back to India. By 31st August I had a
friendly interview with his replacement, Mr. Sharma, who asked me to
call back in an hour. I was told later that visa would be ready the next
day. Previously I had sent emails to the visa section, and asked Karamat
Ali and Dr. Kamal to intervene for me.
A chance meeting with Zulfiqar Daar, a Pakistan International Airlines
union activist, provided me with the best available seat, the "21J".
There was plenty of leg space and I was happy to be in the front row.
When Yaseen Malik and his charming wife sat next to me we had a short
chat. He and I had spoken on some platforms together but this gave me
and opportunity learn a bit more about him.
The Delhi Airport is newly built and has a good infrastructure. It took
half an hour to fill out some forms especially designed for Pakistanis
entering India. I had a visa with a police exemption. This meant I did
not have to report my arrival and departure time to police while in
Delhi. Pakistan and Indian visas are available for particular cities,
not the country as a whole, and it is necessary to explain the purpose
of the visit. It is also necessary to include one's mode of
transportation. A visa for air travel means one can only travel by air.
Once the travel category is written on one's passport it cannot be
When I could not find my host at the airport, I took a non
air-conditioned taxi to the Delhi Pehar Gunj hotel Pearl Plaza [cost:
Indian 240 Rupees ($6)]. Although it was 5pm and I expected the road to
be clogged with traffic, but there was no rush. Soon the Metro, an
underground transportation system that has linked most of Delhi, will
connect the airport.
The Hotel Pearl Plaza was at the thick of tourist cheap hotel area, the
Pehar Gunj. There was no Pearls neither was there a Plaza. The
receptionist called Youveraj and I learned that Reza from Bangladesh and
Prem from Nepal had also arrived. Because of my heart problems I asked
the receptionist for a ground room. Then Prem, Reza and Youveraj arrived
and asked the receptionist to add me in their room. "How could I put a
Pakistani, with a Bangladeshi and Nepali?" he replied. "It is
impossible." All four of us were surprised to hear this and Prem was
getting irritated, I took him to one side and said I felt the
receptionist didn't want a Pakistani in his hotel. Instead of making a
fuss about it I suggested we look for an alternative. The nearby Blessed
Inn Hotel, had a room on ground floor so that's where I stayed for next
For dinner we went to nearby Bar Restaurant owned by a Singh with a
massive belly. He was very friendly and we spoke about Lahore and its
food. The restaurant was full and included many foreigners. This was a
dramatic contrast with Lahore, where there are few foreigners left
because of the fear suicidal attacks mounted by religious fanatics.
I took my evening walk in the main bazaar of Pehar Gunj. I found a very
live street life, with a lot of street food, Chai and many little things
on sale. I wanted to buy some jewelry for Mashal, my 15 year old
daughter, and went to the Guru Emporium where I was greeted by another
Punjabi, Parminder Singh, and his mother. They both were happy to see a
person in Shalwar Qameez, traditional Pakistani dress. They both spoke
about their Rawalpindi connections and offered me a cup of tea. Then
they informed me that they would not charge me; I told them I could not
take anything unless they accepted money. Finally they agreed to charge
me for what they had paid for the finest and latest set of a Curra.
That's how I found new friends who asked me to come again for a further
The Rally and Afterward
India was hosting a mini-ministerial of WTO during 3rd and 4th September
in Delhi with 35 commerce ministers. The Pakistan federal secretary of
commerce, Mr. Salman Ghani, was one of the participants. On 3rd
September, the anti-WTO mass rally at Janter Manter was a massive
protest by the Indian farmers and laborers. Several social movements
issued a statement about why they were protesting:
"India has started the process of Doha once again after it was suspended
last year. The stalled WTO talks promoting further free trade are back
on track! The recent joint declaration by the rich G-8 countries and the
G-5 developing economies (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa)
has committed to conclude the WTO Doha Trade Round by 2010. Commerce
Minister Anand Sharma, in a series of secret meetings abroad, committed
to global leaders that India is willing to help resolve the 'WTO
impasse'. Meanwhile, the WTO has announced that its 7th Ministerial
Conference will be held from Nov 30- Dec 2, 2020 in Geneva.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy's participation in the Government of
India's initiative is clearly indicative of a 'behind the scene' deal in
moving the WTO forward. The Government's sudden proactive stance on the
WTO will have far-reaching, irreversible and adverse consequences for
the country's economy and polity, particularly for the working people
including the peasantry, exacerbating the impacts of the financial and
agrarian crisis and further increasing the dependency of India's
industrial economy on advanced economies.
India stands to lose on all key areas under negotiation - agriculture,
fisheries, industrial tariffs, services and intellectual property. The
EU and USA will not reduce their agricultural subsidies or accept
demands in sectors such as services. In fact their subsidies may
actually increase in the proposed agriculture agreement.
In the latest WTO draft, protective provisions intended for our
peasantry to prevent import surges and protect key crops have been
rendered ineffective. Finally, the tariff reductions and other demands
in the non-agriculture negotiations which include fisheries, other
natural resources and industrial products will actually force us to cut
our WTO customs duties sharply. This will have enormous impact on our
organized and unorganized sectors and the future of our manufacturing
and fisheries sectors. In contrast rich countries will commit to much
lower reductions in their duties".
The march started from Mandi House and ended sitting (Dharna) in front
of parliament house. Walking the three kilometers were no less then
thirty thousand farmers, workers, hawkers, women, students, from around
the India. From early in the morning we had observed groups forming in
the streets. These included India Kishan Shova, La via Campesina, New
Trade Union Initiatives, Hawkers Associations, AIAWU, Forest Workers
Union, FDI Watch, and many more. I was asked to join the front of the
rally with other Left leaders including comrades Brother of Communist
Party India (CPI), Sita Ram of Communist Party India Marxist (CPIM) and
Depankar Bhattacharia of Communist Party India Marxist Leninist (CPIML).
Rather than quote from the anti-WTO speeches, here a few slogans that
indicate the flavor of the demonstration:
* Kick WTO out of agriculture
* Stop inviting global crisis to India
* Free trade is free looting
* A world beyond WTO is possible
During the march I met friends from the Indian social, political and
trade union movement including Ashok Choudry and Roma from the forest
workers, Goutam Modi from the New Trade Union Initiative, Sandeep
Chachre from Action Aid India.
Later in the afternoon, I went to Shekarpur to meet comrade Depankar
Bhattacharya general secretary CPIML, who I had first met in 2002 at a
Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) conference in Australia. In December
2002, I attended the CPIML congress in Patna. Since then we have kept up
a close relationship and there has been a mutual exchange of comrades
We had a three-hour meeting with Kavita and other comrades at CPIML
secretarial, analyzing the current political situation of India and
Pakistan. I invited Depankar Bhattacharya to attend the Labour Party
Pakistan fifth congress to be held on 27-29 January 2010. He happily
We explored launching a joint day of action in South Asia against
imperialist aggression and the neo-liberal agenda. We agreed on the need
to bring together in action the forces of the Left on the Indian sub
continent and we also want to discuss perspectives regularly with each
other. I handed him the new edition of Naked Punch Asia, a radical
literary magazine edited by Qalandar Buksh Memon, a faculty member at
Forman Christian College Lahore. I also gave him copies of my book,
Facing the Musharraf Dictatorship.
Discussing Food Sovereignty
On 4th September, we had full day meeting of the SAAPE food sovereignty
thematic group at hotel Pearl Plaza. Dr. Ujini Halim and Dr. Ramoo from
West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh had arrived already. At breakfast, Ramoo
spoke about the latest technique of the populist leaders offering food
at highly subsidized rates and its effects on the class. (Andhra Pradesh
chief minister Ready--called YSR--had died on the day in a helicopter
crash and thousands and thousands were mourning showing his absolute
popularity. He was from Congress and had offered several such schemes.)
According to India Today (September 14), YSR relied on a slew of schemes
to shore up his popularity including liberalized (privatized) public
distribution. Families below the poverty line are given 20 kg rice at Rs.
3.50 per kg every month. Subsidized edible oil, red gram and a cylinder
of cooking gas are also provided. For nearly five years farmers have
been getting an uninterrupted supply of electricity for free.
Dr. Ramoo a scientist from AP and an active member of SAAPE told us that
in Tamil Nadu, free televisions are given out. He termed all these
measures the new face of neo-liberalism with new tactics to make a
section of class totally dependent.
I outlined the populist moves of Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz
Sharif, who is copying his Indian counterparts and increasing his
The discussion went on during the whole day. We agreed to conduct new
research on the state of land reform in South Asian, an exchange of
peasant visits within the Indian sub- continent, and to build several
campaigns against land grabbing and corporate farming, We also want to
bring more peasants from all eight countries of SAARC into the food
sovereignty thematic group of SAAPE.
Later in the evening, Sandeep and Nini Mehrotra joined us to report on
the latest developments of the South South Peoples Solidarity Forum.
Nini created a new web design for us to consider. We agreed to be more
active in the Forum and to maintain more regular contacts.
We capped our day with dinner in a nearby restaurant where we were happy
to be together, sharing many adventures and experiences.
For the last two days, I got up at 6am and walked in the quiet and
narrow streets of Pehar Ganj for over an hour. There were hotels and
guest houses in every street but I saw dozens of people sleeping on the
pavements, in parked vans, cycle rickshaws and even on wooden planks.
Queues of people fetched water from pipes on the street corners. Most of
the local people I saw were living in absolute poverty. Corner shops
sold pieces of bread rather than whole bread, or even half a loaf.
People might buy two slices, one egg and a tiny portion of milk. There
were tea stalls everywhere. I took my first cup of tea (four rupees)
from one of them.
On 5th September morning, I went to Professor Anu's home at JNU to
attend the last of my meetings for Asia Europe People Forum (AEPF) South
I took an auto from Pehar Gunj. The driver was a brown-eyed Pushtoon
from Peshawar He had migrated in 1947. I asked him how much was the fare
and he said Rupees 120. That was 40 Rupees more than what I was told at
hotel, but I agreed and found he had many stories to tell on the way. He
asked me from which state I have come from, I asked him to guess, he
said probably from Punjab, I said yes, I am from Punjab. Still I did not
tell him that I am from Pakistani Punjab not from Indian Punjab. Apart
from the first day at hotel, no one ever guessed until I told them that
I am from Pakistan. It is the same culture, same Punjabi and Urdu
language, similar to Hindi, same physical shapes and same growing
At JNU, we had good discussion and agreed to call a South Asian caucus
in February 2010 in Delhi and not to mix it with any other event. Apart
from Anu Chenoy and Kamal Chenoy, there were other towering
personalities of Indian peace movement such as Achin Vanaik, Willy,
Prabir Purkayastha, Varsha Berry and Benny Kuruvilla. The next ASEAN
meeting will take place a Brussels in October 2010 and AEPF will
organize events at Brussels to put forth an alternative. The subsequent
meeting of the ASEAN heads of state is scheduled for Delhi in 2012. That
is why we had to begin the process of planning in Delhi.
While I was leaving the meeting with Willy, Varsha called and asked if I
could attend a meeting at Kuldeep Nayar's home to discuss the proposed
Pakistan India peace conference. I had happily agreed. Other
participants included Kamla Bhasin, Jatin Desai, Jawed Naqvi of Date
line Delhi for Daily Dawn Pakistan, Mena Mennon of Focus on Global South
and Salman Haider. Kuldeep Sahib presented his views on the 15 August
mobilization at the Indian side of the Wahgha border. He wanted the
organizing core groups on both sides of the border to take more concrete
steps and we agreed to call a January 2010 peace conference in Delhi.
Last Hours in Delhi
I had rechecked the timing of my flight that morning and realized it was
for 19 hours. Earlier it was in my mind that the flight was at 17 hours.
Happy to spend another two hours in Delhi. I asked Jawed Naqvi to drop
me at Lajpat Nagar Market. I wanted to buy some Kurtas for myself and my
son Abdullah (9). I then took an auto to pick my bag from the hotel and
then on to airport but discovered that the PIA flight PK 271 was
scheduled to depart at 5.30pm. What to do? Should I prepare to take the
next flight in three days time, the same day my visa would expire? I was
angry with my haste in looking the ticket in the morning. Finally, I
decided to go anyhow to the airport. Perhaps if the flight was delayed I
might make it. I took the risk and arrived at the airport at 17.30pm,
the time the flight should have left.
It was a great relief to find out that PIA flight was delayed till
20.50pm. I went to PIA counter and thanked them for being late, and they
smiled. Thank you PIA for being late this time. I actually had to wait
an additional 45 minutes. Often the flights are late because they wait
for the Very Important Personalities, who love to come late, and expect
PIA to wait for them