Monday, December 26, 2005

Meeting the Wrath of the Pharaoh?

Having faced relentless angry responses from the community for their "comparative parliamentary study" to Egypt, the legislators (who went on this so-called study) have decided upon their arrival in Indonesia to ask for "forgiveness" from the people for their mistake.

However, because of the gravity of what they have done, forgiveness is not an option. Impeaching them from their positions would be the best option. It is now up to the Working Body of the House of Representatives (BK-DPR) to act.

Recently in India, a videotape of MPs taking bribes by some undercover TV journalists resulted in the expulsion of eleven of the MPs. The journalists, posing as rich individuals, had come to ask favors from the MPs to raise questions for them during the parliamentary session. Each question posed by the MPs was worth of some thousands of Indian rupees.

It was during the meeting between these MPs and the journalists that the bribe transactions were captured on a hidden camera. The videotaped transaction was broadcast on a prime-time TV show that later resulted in swift action by the Indian parliament to summon the MPs over their alleged involvement in the case. The video resulted in the immediate expulsion of the MPs from the House.

The question now is: Can the BK-DPR bring the same justice to the 15 of its members like the Indian Parliament did to its eleven members for their involvement in corruption? The fifteen members of the House of Representatives who visited Egypt on "official duty" have, in my opinion, crossed the line and should be charged with corruption. Public money spent during this visit should be returned and they should be held accountable for their actions. In other words, the guilty must be punished.

The failure of the BK-DPR to act will only degrade its position in the eyes of the Indonesian people and add to the woes and miseries of the people.

Published in The Jakarta Post Online on 26 December 2005
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Friday, December 23, 2005

Consensual Sex: Is it OK?

Today, the cold of the morning December winter is chilling my body, the same way I feel about the news I have been reading for the past week. Reading the news on Operation Majnu in the city of Meerut in Uttar Pradersh published in the Hindustan Times as well as watching the news of the same topic on NDTV and the similar situation in Indonesia as has been reflected in the news published in Kompas and Media Indonesia daily left me wondering, where are we going? What shall we do?

Operation Majnu, a moral police kind of operation that was designed to target eve-teasers in Meerut, has turned into an ugly incident when the police was recoded in a video camera to have beaten up two couples of young lovers in a park. They have been accused of doing ‘immoral activities’ by showing their affection to their partners. In Indonesia, as published by Kompas daily, a young couple of a reputed university in Bogor was roughed up by the locals for their ‘indecent behavior’ in a rented house in the locality. They were paraded half naked for their sin.

On the contrary of these two incidents, the Canadian Supreme Court has issued a decision to allow ‘consensual sexual acts between adults behind closed doors’. The Hindustan Times daily reported with a bold heading “Canada Okays Group Sex” that the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to give freedom to the ‘swingers’ to freely observe their practice of group sex in a private room behind locked doors. The decision says that “Consensual sexual conducts among adults behind code-locked doors can hardly supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society.”

The incidents above, I believe, must have been just a few cases of thousands of cases of similar situation in this complex world. To say the least, the incidents above reflected the different views and perceptions of different societies towards one thing: sexual act. In a society like India or Indonesia as an example, sexual act out of wedding bell, even though it is conducted in a closed doors is considered taboo or ‘immoral’ whereas in other society like Canada the same conduct is regarded to be normal as long as there is no money is changed between the adults having sex as this act of changing money is considered as prostitution which is illegal.

The judgment of immorality towards this act in societies like India or Indonesia, however, in my view is full of hypocrisy. Because when this act is conducted by high profile personalities, the society stays silent but they will be easily angry and aggressive when it is conducted by ‘commoners’. Why there should be any double standard in the society? Isn’t it a private choice for us to have this act? Because in my opinion, as an adult and leave alone religion, we have conscience towards things we do or decide to do. We realize that there must be consequences on everything we do. The society should have left this decision to the individuals and through the conscience of these individuals, I believe, that positive decisions will be chosen instead of negative ones.

It is true that we live in a society in which personal egos should be put aside if we still want to be a part of the society. But at the same time, the society has to understand the role it has to play for the individuals in the society. It should avoid being hijacked by individuals for their personal gains in the name of the society. And if we add religion to our thought in this matter, the conduct is regarded to be wrong in the sense that the decision by the individuals to conduct the activity have trespassed the boundary of what is allowed and what is not by the religions. As an adult, we must have realized who we are and what consequences we have to face for every decision we take. Behaving like a moral police while at the same time doing the same thing behind closed-doors is the most sinful act any individual can do. This kind of act is known as HYPOCRISY and is unpardonable in the society. So, in my opinion, finally it depends on any individual to act and decide what is best suitable for him/her. The consequences that come with the decision are then his/her own responsibility. He/she will be accountable for any decision he/she has taken, not others.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Useless Comparative Studies

The insistence upon visiting Egypt to do a comparative study of gambling in a Muslim country shown by some members of House of Representatives after the rejection of the plan by the leader of the House proves the insensitiveness of the legislators toward the grave conditions of the Indonesian people.

Spending a whopping US$1.4 million for the seven days of useless visits reflects the mind set of the legislators currently running the legislative body, of "as long as I am a legislator, I will use this opportunity to satisfy my greed". Because, instead of going for these kinds of useless comparative studies, the legislators could have found other means of revenues for the country.

But expecting some huge benefit from legalized gambling in an economically struggling country like Indonesia is a shame. They should have thought of something more essential that can provide more job opportunities to the ever-increasing number of unemployed instead of efforts to legalize gambling. Are there no longer any more legal and better methods of increasing the national revenue apart from gambling?

Besides, it was a point worth considering when legislator Djoko Susilo said that those legislators selected for useful foreign trips should have an adequate understanding of the subject matter first, as well as the medium of communication.

Language barriers, as he plainly said, will only hinder the prospect of achieving benefits from the visits/international conferences attended. Many instances can easily be found when those legislators sent out to undergo comparative studies gained nothing from the visits due to his/her lack of understanding of the subject matter as well as a huge language barrier he/she faced during the visits.

The legislators should understand that they are running the country on public funds and they are accountable to the people. It is hoped that the legislators, as well as other holders of public offices understand their position and their responsibility to the people of Indonesia. Only through better understanding of the roles and position they have can Indonesia move forward to achieve its goals as the third largest democratic nation in the world.

Published in The Jakarta Post, 22 December 2005 (Useless Comparative Studies)
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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ruling with an Iron Fist

This is a comment on the Opinion Are Indonesians truly tolerant? by M. Tholchah on Dec. 9. ( asp?fileid=20050920.F03&irec=2)

In spite of the impressive critical views presented by the writer in this article, he somehow missed the fact that the "tolerant society" created in Indonesia during the 32 years of Soeharto rule as he has pointed out, was, in my view, not because of the successful indoctrination of Pancasila as the writer has claimed. It was because of the iron-fist rule of the Soeharto regime that the sparks in the Indonesian society that erupted in the post Soeharto Indonesia were suppressed for more than three decades.

The regime's iron-fist approach created a calm surface with boiling lava below that was ready to erupt at anytime. The riots and violence in the post-Soeharto Indonesia prove my hypothesis.

With the absence of the strict control of the government over its populace as we witnessed during the Soeharto period there are now these sparks throughout Indonesia.

At the same time, claiming that the grim reality in Indonesia (the rampant corruption, violence, crime and other criminal acts), in the most populous Muslim country in the world, gave Islam a double face, is, in my view, a mistake. It is the individual, and not the religion, that needs to be blamed. It is not the Islamic teachings that produce these conditions but it is the understanding of the individuals about Islam that needs to be reviewed. I am pretty convinced considering the background of the writer that my opinion is wholly acceptable.

Published in The Jakarta Post Online Letter on 9 Dec 2005

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Return of the Military

The establishment of the 'anti-terror desk' by the Indonesian Military on the basis of UU No 34/2004 as a reaction to the slow response of the Indonesian police has marked the comeback of the TNI in the Indonesian politics. Whether we like it or not, this decision by the SBY government to rely on the TNI's intelligence service instead of improving the Indonesian police force sent a negative signal to the masses. The assurance given by the TNI that they will act only as the support for the Indonesian police in its fight against terror menace is not enough until it is proven in their action. The long history of the military's domination in the Indonesian politics during the Suharto period, and the fact that President SBY himself was a military officer, cannot rule out this possibility.

The fact that the Indonesian police has partly successful in solving the previous terror cases is a proof that they have the capability to do their works and duty to provide safety to the Indonesian people. Their inability to yet solve the mistery of the recent Bali bombing cannot be regarded as their failure to perform. And instead of establishing the terror desk in the TNI, the Government should have improve that capability of the Detachement 88 of the police force that is responsible for the anti terror actitivities. The resources in the Indonesian intelligence (the BIN) as well as those in the TNI should have been incorporated in this Detachement to increase their capability and not by establishing an anti terror desk within the TNI.

The establishment of the anti-terror desk in the TNI can dilute the responsibility of the TNI as the nation's core defensive force towards foreign threats and subsequently reduce the important role of the police force in their effort to guarante the safety and security of the people.

Thus if the SBY Government is really willing to take the responsibility to assure the safety and security of its people, it should not rely on the TNI but instead it must improve the police force as the vanguard in the fight against terror in Indonesia.


New Delhi
Nov. 2005

This opinion was published in The Jakarta Post Online Letter on 08 November 2005 (

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Engaging Political Pluralism: Lesson from India

The great Indian nation under the British Raj was finally divided into two very distinct entities in 1947: a secular democratic and vibrant country of India and a religiously based, non-democratic and riot-ridden state of Pakistan.

The Two Nations theory that sparked the partition process in 1947 could be described as a fatal choice taken by the then impatient Indian national leaders in their efforts to achieve an independent India. The eventual break up of Pakistan into the present day Pakistan and Bangladesh further diminished the relevance of the Two Nations theory which was based on religion – Pakistan was meant for the Indian Muslims while India was for the Indian Hindus.

The failure of Pakistan to keep its unity as a country that is a home for the Indian Muslims and the eventual emergence of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, into an independent, Muslim country in 1971 became a vivid proof of the failure of religion as an adhesive force that is capable of binding a homogenously religious community into one single nation. On the other hand, India, which was initially meant for the Indian Hindus, has been developing into a vibrant democratic country with a secularly based Constitution that guarantees the freedom of its citizens to profess and practice their own faiths without any disturbance or any slightest hindrance.

The remarkable experience of India in managing the pluralism of its citizens is of an example of the working of democratic values in a plural society.

Having Hindus as its majority constituents in a now more than one billion populations, India is experiencing the benefits of the age-old Hindu culture that respects the existence of others as an integral part of a society. Islamic traditions that dominated India for over four centuries before the British rule in India became an aspect of importance in building a tolerance in Indian society which is highly multicultural, multilingual as well as multireligious. The synergy of these two great civilizations in the world marked the strengthening of secular philosophy of Indian state in guaranteeing the freedom of its citizens of its rights.

Gandhi, Tilak, Maulana Azad, Nehru, Ambedkar are several prominent Indian leaders that have put a strong foundation for the functioning of a secular and democratic India. Despite several differences between them, they agreed that the tragedy of 1947 would never to ever happen again in the future. The differences of aspirations that exist in the society are being properly accommodated through the channels that enable the functioning of a democratic system. The Indian National Congress party as a congregation of different values, views, ideologies as well as political aspirations became the vehicle for the functioning of good governance. However, the combination of firmness and sensitivity that was attempted finally broke down. With the growing aspirations in the masses, the transformation from a single party dominance into a multi party and coalitional politics cannot be denied. Started with the split in the INC after the demise of Nehru and its failure to further play its role as a natural party of the government, the transformation into the present day India became natural. Several factors have come to support the process: the highhandedness of the new INC leadership, the new wave of Hindu nationalism, the caste politics as well as the increasing demands in several regions for more autonomy have resulted in the emergence of regionally based political parties that led into the multipartism in Indian politics.

Religion, Caste, Region and Coalition Politics

The failure of the new INC leadership to accept the new reality in Indian politics resulted in the disappointment and the formation of breakaway political parties. The secularly based INC met the challenge of the Siv Sena, the Jan Sangh party, later known as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that used religion as its driving force. The Janata Dal party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party are several parties that emerged later as the vehicle of caste-based politicians to rise to power. The Telugu Desam Party, the DMK as well as the AIADMK are several regional parties that emerged as a result of regional dissatisfaction towards the Center. At the same time, the grand old party of the INC has split into several parties like the Trinamool Congress Party, the Congress (I) as well as the National Congress Party.

The complex Indian society faced a very difficult situation in which accommodating the various aspirations of different communities is a huge task. The INC failed in keeping up with the growing differences in the society when it was rejected from power and split into different factions. The 1980s and early 1990s witnessed the new political reality in Indian politics. Political opportunisms and political survival have brought the previously harmonious society into jitters. The implementation of the recommendation by the Mandal Commission on the rights of job reservation for the backward classes and lower caste groups by the Government and the exploitation of the sentiment of the majority by several major players to reap electoral harvest marked the departure of Indian politics into a more communal and caste-based politics. Riots and social disharmony was the phenomenon that cannot be avoided. The Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 by the Hindu hardliners became the turning point of the political scene in India. The post 1992 Indian politics is more communal in nature as compared to the previous decades.

Riding on the wave of religious sentiment, the BJP defeated the secular forces led by the Congress Party to capture the power in the Center and led the formation of the first successful coalition government in New Delhi, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). With the success of this BJP-led coalition government in New Delhi and the absence of a single national party to be a majority power in the national politics, the compulsion of a coalitional politics to accommodate the increasing demands of the voters became unavoidable. The needs to make compromise between coalition partners became the key success of a coalition government. However, the growing maturity of the Indian society saw the setback of communally based politics in which the general elections held in early 2004 witnessed the emergence of the Congress-led government coalition in New Delhi. The return of the secularly based Congress-led coalition in New Delhi on the compulsion of coalition politics became the landmark of a new innings of a harmonious India in which a secular India is tightly uphold by its citizens.

Lessons Learned

Living in a complex and composite society is quite an experience. Building a nation that integrates the different constituents into a single, powerful entity needs special efforts and bond that work as an adhesive to unite the differing components without neglecting the diversity it possesses. A great nation like India found an integrating force in the form of secular belief based on its age-old tradition of respect and harmonious existence between differing components in a united society. The painful experience of 1947 partition of India based on religion was firmly rejected and forcefully to be avoided in the future chapter of Indian history. However, there are always players that use communal sentiments for personal gain of power and greed. The communalization of Indian politics after the failure of the grand old party to perform its duty as a binding organization have transformed the political compulsion between differing groups into making certain alliances that is benefiting. The changing scenario witnesses the transformation from a single party system into a multi party system. In the absence of any single majority power to occupy the Parliament, the compulsion of coalitional politics becomes abundance. This new phenomenon in Indian politics is necessary to be observed in the efforts of engaging the complex aspirations of a diverse community.

Indonesia is an immediate neighbor of India that shares a lot of aspects with India. Be it the religions, traditions as well as cultures. The influence of the Indian tradition in Indonesia is very much apparent that we cannot miss. As a plural society, Indonesia also needs a binding instrument that is capable of acting as an adhesive to bind the various and diverse components of Indonesian society. While India found the bond in the secular tradition of Indian society, Indonesia had decided to make Pancasila, derived from the diverse traditions of Indonesian society, as the binding instrument to hold the great nation together. Pancasila acts as a ‘social contract’ of a consensus by the Indonesian people to hold together as one nation. It has an integrative force for the idea of Indonesia as a nation-state. However, a question has come up as how far is the commitment of the Indonesian people to hold Pancasila as the binding instrument? Throughout the Indonesian history, we witnessed different groups that have mounted several challenges and oppositions towards Pancasila. But, the failure of these groups to drag the Indonesian society into their folds and chose to stay as a nation that respects the diversity of its constituents is a proof of the firmness in the society to uphold the values of diversity.

The initial accommodation of various political aspirations through a single party in India that proved to be a failure, led into the creation of multipartism in which the compulsion of coalition politics is the phenomenon. The Indonesian experience with a democratic exercise is relatively young to be compared to the Indian experience. But the tendency of living in diversity has also brought Indonesia into the experimentation of multipartism. With the legitimacy of the executive being derived from a direct presidential election, the compulsion of coalitional politics for the formation of a government is of a lesser degree to be compared to the parliamentary system of Indian politics. However, securing legitimacy without being able to create stability in the functioning of the government would only create problems. Hence coalition politics in Indonesia is a necessity stage before transforming itself into a dual party system that would guarantee more stability as well legitimacy to the government. The successful coalition politics of the NDA government in India based on Common Minimum Program, a practice being faithfully followed by the current Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, is something to be imitated to create a stable and working coalition. Learning from the functioning of Indian democracy is of an advantage for Indonesia as it shares a lot of similar aspects of a plural society. The successful experience of the Indian democracy in engaging the political pluralism within its diverse society could become an immitation for the future working of Indonesian democracy based on the Pancasila, a manifestation of diverse Indonesian traditions.

A Qisa'i
New Delhi - August 2005