Gurukanth Desai is not “of Indian origin”

Suspected British jihadi must have used a Gujarati Hindu name to avoid suspicion

Soon after the British authorities released the names of nine suspected terrorists yesterday, most Indian media reports rushed to tell us [1 2 3 4] without a hint of doubt or uncertainty, that one of them was “of Indian-origin.” Given that there was very little time for them to do background checks, they just assumed that a person going by the name of “Gurukanth Desai” must be a person of Indian origin.

They didn’t even google him up.

If they had, they would have found that Gurukant Desai is actually the name of the lead character in Mani Ratnam’s 2007 movie Guru. Gurukanth is an unusual first name for a person with the surname Desai. Gurukanth Desai is also an unusual name in a list in which the others are Abdul Malik Miah, Omar Sharif Latif, Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, Shah Mohammed Lutfar Rahman, Nazam Hussain, Usman Khan, Mohibur Rahman and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan.

It should have raised eyebrows and, at the very least, a qualifier indicating that he might be of Indian-origin. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. [The Calcutta Telegraph was an exception]

It turns out—as I pointed out on twitter yesterday—that Gurukanth Desai, 28 years old and a father of three, is Abdul Malik Miah’s brother and of Bangladeshi origin. The Hindu Gujarati name, taken off a Hindi film, was probably adopted to ward off suspicion.

Apart from exposing lazy journalism in India, this episode is yet another indication that Indian embassies and consulates must exercise much greater care while issuing visas to people presumably of Indian-origin.

This is also disturbing because it might make visa applications and travel more difficult for the genuine Gurukanth Desais of the world, not least because it is impossible to prevent jihadis from assuming names like David Coleman Headley or Gurukanth Desai. This case is an argument against profiling based on religion, but where such profiling exists, a Mr Desai or Mr Singh might become a little more suspect. (This is not to say that there cannot be real jihadis of Gujarati Hindu origin, as the case of Dhiren Bharot/Abu Musa al-Hindi tells us. Rather, that such cases are exceptional and very rare.)

Tailpiece: A few years ago, friends of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London 7/7 bombers, gave their names as “Sanjay Dutt” and “Shahrukh”…and the New York Times reporter didn’t get it.

Finding a home for Mushie

…if he does get a ‘dignified’ exit

Pervez Musharraf is toast.

When will he go, in what manner will he go, and where will he go? The first two questions are too complicated. Assuming he does get a ‘dignified exit’ that he now seeks, where will General Musharraf spend the first few years of his retirement?

He has too many enemies in a political culture where vendettas are the norm. So he’ll have to get out of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

He could head over to the New England region of the United States to live in comfortable retirement. But doing so would reinforce allegations that he is an American stooge. So he might spend time in the US on ‘extended’ visits, but is unlikely to want the US to be his country of residence.

The Saudi king reportedly asked Nawaz Sharif to take it easy on General Musharraf. Now it would be delicious irony if General Musharraf became the official Pakistani-leader-in-exile, replacing Mr Sharif, but the general has certain lifestyle choices that would make Saudi Arabia a rather uncomfortable retirement home.

So it is that Turkey becomes a leading contender to host the man who holds it in admiration. It is an American ally, an Islamic country, lifestyle choices no bar, and a place where General Musharraf spent some years as a kid. The plane on the tarmac of Islamabad’s airport might well have filed flight plans for Istanbul.

There are other destinations like Dubai and London, also places that host Pakistani-leaders-in-exile, but then, these locations suggest that the said exile has active politics in mind, not retirement.

And finally, there is the village of Chak 13 BC near Bahawalpur in Punjab province. General Musharraf owns land there. In fact, he is the numberdar there, the person who collects water taxes and land revenues on behalf of the state. They don’t want him as army chief and president. Nobody has said anything about not wanting him as the village tax collector.