Congress Bid to Revive 2002 Will Boomerang
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” – Jesus in Gospel of Matthew 7:3
Gubaar-e-khatir ke baab sare
tere hamare sawal sare jawab sare
bahar aai tu khil gay hain
naye sire se hisab sare...... - Faiz Ahmed Faiz
When the Sallies of Mind
Fling open the doors of the past
All your questions and all our answers
Will once again confront us.
Now that the spring has arrived
All the settled accounts
Will be examined afresh
Yours as well as ours
Rahul Gandhi’s school boyish level of replies to Arnab Goswami live TV interview reminds us of the idiom we all learnt in school: pot calling the kettle black. It means, we were told, the person accusing (the “pot”) also happens to share some quality with the target of their accusation (the “kettle”). The pot is mocking the kettle for a little soot when the pot itself is thoroughly covered in the same. As a matter of fact, when the pot accuses the kettle of being black, it is the pot’s own sooty reflection that it sees: the pot accuses the kettle of a fault that only the pot has, rather than one that they both share. After you’re through reading this piece, you decide, dear readers, who’s the pot, who’s the kettle.
Isn’t the oft-played game, I wonder, a case of psychological projection conceptualized by Sigmund Freud as a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world? For example, a person who is discourteous tends to accuse other people of being discourteous.
Two Memorable Dates
I don’t think the present generation would forget in a hurry two dates of our recent history i.e., 1984 and 2002. And the main credit for making them memorable goes to the Congress Party. Lest you should think I’m giving, as the Bard put it, the devil more than its due, let me explain.
The main credit for the current BJP versus Congress political melodrama on ‘Your 1984’ versus ‘Your 2002’ goes to the Congress Party. Indeed both 1984 and 2002 were a disgrace, indelible black spots on a Republican Constitution that promised equality of citizens, irrespective of religion. We choose, alas, to view riots through a partisan political prism shorn of the universal humanism that must underpin every act of violence against innocent Indians.
The Congress fails no opportunity to use 2002 to demonize Narendra Modi and question his moral right to be the future prime minister. The BJP will use 1984 to suggest that Rahul Gandhi too has blood on his hands. Isn’t he the son of Rajiv Gandhi under whose nose thousands of Sikhs were butchered in the streets of Delhi?
Who meanwhile has the time to remember the fate of Kashmiri Pundits in the 1990 violence in the Valley? Aren’t the arch-secularist Abdullahs accountable for a monumental failure for what is literally a genocide?
Critics of the late Bal Thackeray will remind you of Mumbai 1992-93 to suggest that the Shiv Sena chieftain was a murderous rabble-rouser. And Muzaffarnagar will now be used to suggest that the Mulayam-Akhilesh duo are communal wolves if the garb of secular lambs.
The ‘truth’ is often more complex. Let’s be clear: no riot takes place without either the incompetence or complicity or both of the regime in power. No riot also takes place without one group using its numerical majority to ‘settle scores’ − real or imaginary. Also it is noteworthy that compared to others, the conviction rate in Gujarat has been much better. Over a 1,000 people died, more than 400 have been convicted even though it required a Supreme court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to nudge the criminal justice system to act in major cases.
An important minister in the Modi government like Maya Kodnani was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Naroda-Patiya case in Gujarat; in the 1984 violence, no senior Congressman has been convicted even though the political involvement has been well-documented. H K L Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar who were deeply involved in the killing of Sikhs went scot free. In Mumbai 1992, the only major politician to face a one-year jail term was the Shiv Sena’s Madhukar Sarpotdar, but he got bail right away.
Impact of TV
It is important to remember that 1984 and the 1992-93 riots were in the pre-television era. The Rajiv Gandhi government got away in the aftermath of the 1984 riots because there wasn’t the enduring image of the camera to capture the horror of the time, human rights activists were less assertive, civil society less vocal and the courts were not as unrelenting as they are today.
The television image is a powerful one: it prevents the setting in of early amnesia. Hence, 2002 communal conflagration has become more memorable than others more gory killings of the past.
The fact that the Rajiv-led Congress government won a massive majority in a general election that took place within weeks of the riots almost seemed to ‘vindicate’ their action and wash away the stain of the massacre. The 1992-93 riots were followed by the blasts of March 1993, a ghastly terror act which threw up a parallel narrative for the likes of Thackeray to exploit.
By contrast, after we entered the 21st century, no government can get away with either sponsoring violence or failing to prevent it. The utter bankruptcy of the Akhilesh government in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar violence will reflect in the anger of the minorities when it comes to election time.
The shameful pictures of bulldozers running through ‘relief’ camps will haunt the Samajwadi Party forever. Modi may have got a clean chit from courts, but he knows that the tearful image of a Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for mercy from the rioters will haunt his politics.
And while this year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1984 riots, the demand for an SIT to re-investigate the violence only confirms that the ghosts of the past have an uncanny knack of returning to haunt succeeding generations.
One of the recurring themes after every riot is a demand for an apology. We seek one from Modi; now we want one from Rahul Gandhi. The fact is what the riot victims really want is accountability, not just a ritualistic apology. And also they want a willingness of governments to face up to inconvenient truths
An Unflattering Past
Let’s face facts which aren’t flattering to our perceptions of national self-esteem. We have a past of communal conflicts. And even at the cost of stirring a hornet’s nest, let’s confront the ineluctable fact that the chief factor responsible for it for at least over a thousand years in our history has been the fundamentalist Islamic belief that it’s the only true religion which must overwhelm all others.
Our so-called secularist intellectuals find difficult to accept the conclusions of the Belgian orientalist, Koenraad Elst who claims that there is a formidable effort to rewrite India’s history and to whitewash Islam. He says that the goal and methods of this alleged history rewriting resembles the denial of the Nazi holocaust. Elst’s may been a voice in the wilderness but can we dismiss the observations of a person of the standing of Will Durant who wrote in The Story of Civilization:
The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within. (Bold italics added.)
This has been corroborated by several other orientalists after painstaking research. French historian Alain Danielou wrote in his Histoire de l’Inde:
From the moment when the Muslims arrive in India, the history of India does not have any more great interest. It is long and monotonous series of murder, massacres, spoliations, destruction.
It is best evidenced by the wanton destruction in 1193 of the Nalanda University complex by Turkish Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji. This also marked the final milestone in the decline and near extinction of Buddhism in India. He also burned Nalanda’s major Buddhist library and Vikramshila University. It is recorded how the fire went on smoldering at the site for months. A site of great learning became a symbol of purblind bigotry.
We had a great opportunity to rebuild and start afresh after 1947 despite the ghastly massacres that preceded the Partition of India in which a crore of innocent men, women and children were killed for the fault of professing wrong religious faiths and another two crore were disposed from their hearths and homes. These developments left an indelible mark on what the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs called “collective memory”. And despite all that, we forged ahead to give ourselves a secular democratic polity and for the first time in our history a written Constitution to guide us.
Instead of evolving a truly secular democratic polity, the Indian National Congress who inherited power from the departing British practiced widely analyzed vote bank politics which was yoked to first-past-the-post (abbreviated FPTP or FPP) election system to stay entrenched in power. As per this system about 20 percent of voters can decide in a multi-party polity who wields political power. That underscored the importance of the Muslim minority and the need to invent the bogey of Hindu right. The result is the emergence of certain myths, two of which continue to haunt.
Gujarat riots were worst in Independent India.
Let’s look at the facts of some major communal riots in the recent past.
1969 – Gujarat: Total dead 660 of which 430 were Muslims;
1983 – Nellie, Assam: All 2,191 killed were Muslims;
1984 - 3,000+ Sikhs were butchered in cold blood
1989 – Bhagalpur: Of the 1,070 who died, 876 were Muslims;
1992 – Mumbai: 575 of those dead out of 900 were Muslims.
Compare this to the Gujarat riots of 2002, wherein (as per official figures) of the 1,169 killed, 781 were Muslims and the rest, Hindus. Police action led to killing of Hindus too, unlike in the riots listed above which saw no police intervention. Far worse, Indira Gandhi even justified Nellie riots. Rajiv Gandhi’s fatuous comment − “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” − cannot ever whitewash the worst post-Independence communal riot.
Anyone with a head on his shoulders except purblind Congress votaries can see that neither was the Gujarat riot the first in independent India nor was it the worst. It is important to note that no one orchestrated it, neither has anyone justified it.
Thousands of Muslims were killed?
Another widely advertised myth is: Thousands of Muslims were Killed in Gujarat Riots. Total number of deaths in Gujarat riots was 1,169 of which Muslims killed were 781, and not thousands as those who have little regard for facts would like us to believe. Yet it is important not to look at just the numbers but also to understand the effort the state government of Gujarat made in those crucial hours after the riots broke out.
Modi had been Chief Minister for less than six months and had been elected to the Assembly less than a fortnight before the riots broke out. In the given situation, the CM did his best as evidenced by the newspaper coverage then − repeat then and not now.
At 6pm IST on 28th February, 2002, the Army was on stand-by. Here’s an Indian Express report:
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Thursday called a meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security, which decided that Army will stand by in the disturbed areas of Gujarat.
Earlier in the evening, addressing a crowded press conference, Chief Minister Narendra Modi put the death count at 20, said curfew was imposed on 26 areas and over 700 were arrested in the state, including 80 in Godhra, the place of Sabarmati Express carnage. The Army has been asked to stand by, and the Rapid Action Force and Central Industrial Security Force have also been deployed in sensitive areas, he added. “If possible, the Army may be air-lifted from the border,” Modi added.
Following large-scale arson in Ahmedabad, indefinite curfew was clamped in Kalupur, Dariapur, Rakhial, Karanj, Bapunagar, Naroda, Vatwa and Sherkotda areas.
Today, one of the sharpest critics of Modi is the The Hindu, with immaculate secular credentials. Here’s what it reported on 1st March, 2002:
AHMEDABAD, MARCH 1. The Army began flag marches in the worst-affected areas of Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot and Godhra cities and the ‘shoot at sight’ order was extended to all 34 curfew-bound cities and towns in Gujarat as the orgy of violence in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage continued unabated for the second day today.
But unlike Thursday when one community was entirely at the receiving end, the minority backlash caused further worsening of the situation.
A Lie is a Lie
There were indeed riots in Gujarat in 2002. Everyone killed in them was an Indian before he was a Hindu or a Muslim, and, above all, a human being. Some thing led to them, howsoever regrettable. And certainly these riots were not the only ones after 1947, and most certainly not the ones in which the maximum number of Muslims were killed. That distinction − the correct word is disgrace − belongs to Nellie riots that the Congress Party wants to wish out of existence.
Must we vitiate our thinking and debase the tone of our electioneering by parrot-like, idiotic repetition of a lie. Let’s not forget as human beings endowed with the faculty to think and reason, that a lie is a lie, and will forever remain a lie, even if repeated a million times.
Remember the celebrated public debate that took place over a century and a half ago? It was at Clinton, Illinois on September 2, 1858, when the American Republic was in turmoil over the issue of slavery. Addressing his opponent, Abraham Lincoln made the much-quoted remark: “Judge Douglas, you can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time.”
Isn’t distressing that some self-serving, vociferous critics of Modi are trying to get away by fooling all the people all the time?
I wonder if Rahul read in school the poem composed supposedly over a hundred years ago:
“Oho!” said the pot to the kettle;
“You are dirty and ugly and black!
Sure no one would think you were metal,
Except when you’re given a crack.”
“Not so! not so!” kettle said to the pot;
“‘Tis your own dirty image you see;
For I am so clean – without blemish or blot –
That your blackness is mirrored in me.”
Centuries ago the good, old phrase was coined: ‘Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.’