Implication of the Emergence of Narendra Modi - II
Making Peace with the Ghosts of Past
Continued from Political Races: Lost and Won
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
The Burial of the Dead
The Waste Land
— T. S. Eliot
In his day when passions were running high (as they, indeed, are today), Thomas Paine said “Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.” Ignorance requires no reason – none at all. It needs no facts. It just feeds on impregnably blind prejudices. I propose to look in this installment at some of the facts – unvarnished facts – about the environment in which Narendra Modi operates – right in the eye of the raging political storm around him.
Indeed, till Modi is around – and he is very likely to straddle the centre stage in the months and (hopefully) years to come – the corpse of 2002 riots will surface and resurface to haunt and the UPA parivar will spare no effort to exorcise the ghost.
Recently, my esteemed friend Rajinder Puri wrote in these columns an incisive piece on Modi. As he puts it, the man is neither a Monster nor a Messiah. However, the temptation to look at politicians in general and him, in particular, in B&W terms is far more overwhelming than the attempt to view them analytically in myriad shades of grey. I’m no apologist of Modi. I’ve not met the man to ask him some hard questions to form my judgment about his agenda. However, I’ve reasons to believe that he represents perhaps the last chance for this otherwise irredeemably sick polity to cure itself to some semblance of health. I think he has the potential to give a desperately needed turn to our national thinking on the all-important issues of secularism – as our pseudo-secular policies are branded – and the pernicious vote bank politics to manipulate the concerns of the Muslim minority that the Congress Party has crassly abused over the years to keep itself entrenched in power.
Measures of Progress
Ever since Modi won a second time in 2007 in Gujarat we have been inundated by columns and Op-eds, about different set of claims “debunking” the Gujarat miracle in general and Modi’s effectiveness as a leader in particular. Lately, at the heart of these “debunking theories” has been the issue of malnutrition in Gujarat, a topic completely blown out of the proportion.
Though India may rank at 134th in the HDI ranking, yet somehow it is expected from the Gujarat to outperform India in every sector – be it health or economy, education or investment. Lately, the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) released its audited findings on ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme). Its reports looks at the effectiveness of the programs initiated to uproot the malnutrition from various states. It turns out, to the utter shock of Modi’s critics, that Gujarat has shown the most impressive decline in the malnourishment whereas a rich state like Delhi, is among the worst performer where malnutrition rate is as high as 49.91%.
Let me; however, take a more substantive issue exercising the secular intellectuals of India. The very first image the name of Modi conjures up is Hindu communalism. The only one religion of the world, as Vivekananda proclaimed with pride to the whole world that is not trapped in the narrow grooves of communalism, is Hinduism. The custodians of our secularism harbor great misgivings about Modi unleashing Hindu communal forces.
Reason demands we have a look at facts — a real hard look devoid of preconceived ideas and predilections.
He is credited with making Gujarat one of India’s most prosperous states. But Modi is also accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in 2002 which left more than 1,000 dead. His appointment as the head of the Bharatya Janata Party’s election campaign for elections due by May 2014 is thus a danger signal.
The much-discussed 2002 violence began on February 27 2002, with the burning in Godhra of a train car full of activists from a Hindu nationalist group. Immediately after that incident, Modi supported Hindu nationalists’ call for a general strike and allowed them to take the dead bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad where they were displayed publicly – two decisions that have been widely criticised.
So, till Narendra Modi is around – agree with him or disagree, loath him or love him – he will always carry the albatross of 2002 riots around his neck. His alleged role in not immediately controlling the violence when it broke out is supposedly a stigma that no amount of development work he has done, will ever wash.
Communal Violence in Gujarat
However, isn’t it necessary to look into the past to understand any present event in its full implications? The riots that occurred in 2002 were inevitable after the ghastly events of Godhra. About 1,000 people were killed. Had the same number of people been killed in a communal riot in, say, Nagpur city of Maharashtra, it would indeed have been considered as ‘large-scale riot’. This is because Nagpur region is a region which has hardly seen any communal riots since 1927. But since the riots took place in Gujarat, the events have to be viewed in totality, in view of Gujarat’s history which is replete with communal violence.
As a matter of fact the Gujarat riots of March 2002 pale into insignificance compared to the past communal riots in the state. The state saw far worse riots in 1969 and 1985 when it was ruled by secular Congress Party under the Chief Ministership of Hitendra Desai and Madhav Singh Solanki respectively. (Haven’t you all forgotten about them? It is all past, you’ll say.) Gujarat also saw riots of a larger scale in 1980, 1982, 1990-1991- 1992 when secularists were ruling it.
Hindu-Muslim conflicts have been an on-going story in Gujarat. Communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in the State have been going on since as far back as 1714 AD. And it was, for sure, centuries before the birth of any of today’s much-maligned organizations of the Sangh Parivar. Don’t forget the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded only in 1925; the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, in 1952; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), in 1964; and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980.
It is extremely regrettable fact that most communal clashes in the world emanate from the inability of Muslims to live on terms of peace with their neighbors professing (or practicing) a religious faith other than theirs. And even among Muslims it is not easy for Sunnis to co-exist with Shiites and other denominations of Islam. So, conflicts continue between Muslims and Hindus in India, Muslims and Buddhists in China, Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, in Algeria, in Philippines, in Morocco, in Chechnya etc. It is not the VHP or the Sangh Parivar that is common denominator in all these places.
In India, Hindus and Muslims have clashed in battles, wars and riots since as far back as AD 636 when Arabs invaded Thane (near Mumbai) and were repulsed. Their attacks on India, historians tell us, started in 636 AD within years of the emergence of Islam and after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD. Converts to Islam set out to convert the world to the only true Allah-ordained faith. In 712, Mohammad-bin-Qasim invaded Sindh and defeated its King, Raja Dahir. Even before this event, ever since the Muslims attacked Thane in 636 AD, they kept attacking western Indian kingdoms. Gujarat Riots: The True Story lists a summary of these invasions.
And let’s face it; riots are nothing new to India. In the past 125 years, at least 1880 riots have occurred in several parts of India. But among all the Indian states, Gujarat was by far the most communally sensitive state.
If we take the history of Ahmedabad for last five centuries, the city was ruled by the Muslim rulers, including the Mughals for about three and a half centuries, and the rest by Marathas and the British before Independence. And this history is no stranger to communal riots, beginning with the well-recorded Holi riots in 1714 which were repeated over the next two years.
Gandhi was around during the September 1927 riots. In 1940’s there were riots: in 1941 and 1946. Again, 1965 and 1969 witnessed riots.
To the everlasting shame of all of us, Gujarat had one of its worst communal riots in Gandhi centenary year. Yes, in 1969 when Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was especially invited to inaugurate Gandhi centenary celebrations.
On 18th September 1969, the last day of Urs, violence broke out on the trivial issue of a temple cows disturbing the Urs. Thousands died in the riots. Gujarat was then ruled by the Indian National Congress and not the communal BJP. Hitendra K Desai was the Chief Minister of the State, not the much-maligned Narendra Modi. Did the Americans revoke Desai’s visa?
Allow me to quote from Kathmandu-based HIMAL Southasian - a respected quarterly magazine which publishes commentary, reportage and criticism. In its issue dated 6 July 2003 it published the following:
Judicial commissions of inquiry, the Justice Reddy Commission and the Justice VS Dave Commission, were instituted after two major riots, of 1969 and 1985 respectively. Both commissions referred in some detail to Gujarat’s history of communal violence. The Justice Dave Commission traced the history of communal violence in Ahmedabad as far back as 1714 when a bloody riot was sparked off during the Holi celebrations. The city then was still under Mughal control. Subsequent riots broke out in 1715, 1716 and 1750…
Hindu-Muslim violence continued in the centuries that followed, with the pace and intensity picking up in the second half of the twentieth century. When communal riots broke out in 1941, curfew had to be imposed for over two-and-a-half months. The Justice Reddy Commission identified as many as 2938 instances of communal violence in the state between 1960 and 1969, that is, an average of approximately three riots every four days during this ten-year period…
During this period, riots began to spread over a much wider geographical area of the state, affecting towns like Veraval, Junagadh, Patan, Godhra, Palanpur, Anjar, Dalkhania, Kodinar and Deesa, all of which have been hit by the ongoing violence.
… But violence of a different, more systematic and sustained order was inaugurated in 1969. The Hindu-Muslim riots of that year mark a major break with the hitherto prevalent pattern of steady, if unspectacular, social conflict. More than two years of hectic Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist activity preceded the outbreak of these riots. Communal violence in the state acquired a more organised form against the backdrop of the India-Pakistan war of 1965.
… A riot of this magnitude, unprecedented in both scale and duration, had a foundational significance for the politics of the state and the techniques of mobilisation and orchestration that increasingly came into use. The discrete and scattered violence of the preceding period can be presumed to be manifestations of everyday class, caste and community struggles arising from socio-economic conflicts of a more or less local nature. To that extent, their individual histories and repercussions were confined to the respective localities of incidence. The 1969 riots had the critical mass that lent it state- and nation-wide visibility and gave it a prominent place in the historical inventory of community grievances. This riot could now be invoked at will, not just in Gujarat but wherever else tension had to be engineered. In effect, this was the first explicit politicisation of both communalism and public violence in the state.
Most importantly, the riots of 1969 took Gujarati society past the psychological threshold of normally tolerable public violence, and this not just of the communal variety. Once the barrier to the use of violence in inter-party conflicts was crossed, its repeated use acquired a tacit legitimacy as the social conscience became gradually more immune to the incremental doses of it that the polity administered.
The BJP’s active influence on the 1985 agitation explains many of its more curious features. The riots began on 19 March, the day after the newly elected Congress government assumed office, and was directed against a policy measure declared more than two months prior. In January, the Congress government had announced an increase in the quota of jobs in government and seats in public educational institutions reserved for backward castes. The riots lasted six months, much after the policy had been revoked by the government. … South Gujarat, which had previously been unaffected, now found itself on the riot map of the state. The social base of the violence expanded to include gangsters, bootleggers and professional killers. Various reports of the period quote doctors who described the stab wounds they attended to as the work of trained hands. The agitation finally degenerated to a point where sections of the state constabulary abandoned their uniforms and relinquished their responsibilities to join the riots.
Gujarat again witnessed riots in 1992 when the disputed Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was razed to the ground a few hours after kar sevaks stormed the monument. Surat experienced intermittent disturbances over a six-month period. In 1993, more riots followed, after the blasts in Bombay, allegedly masterminded by the Muslim underworld. Perhaps these riots were attempts at forging a Hindu unity that, on the face of it, seemed impossible. Whatever the intention, there is no denying that the rath yatra precipitated a political crisis in which the existing intra- and inter-party equations began to break down. And, there is no getting away from the fact that, though not uniformly successful across India, the BJP from the 1991 general elections has secured more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the state. Remarkably, for three years following its assumption of office in Gujarat in 1995, the state was free from communal riots. The BJP was clearly living up to its boast of ensuring a riot-free administration, prompting critics to cite this as proof of the party’s monopoly of organised public violence. At any rate, this peaceful interim was part of the established pattern of violence erupting and subsiding according to the clearly discernable designs of politics. The inference, therefore, that violence had become a crucial raw material of electoral politics controlled by a cartel is unavoidable…”
Himal Southasian, may I reiterate, is an independent, non-nationalist and pan-regionalist magazine, offering stories for the entire region of South Asia. The editor and publisher of the magazine is a respected Nepalese journalist Kanak Mani Dixit — no apologist of BJP or Narendra Modi.
I’ve deliberately not mentioned in these chronicles of communal violence in Gujarat the oft-told story of Muslim invaders looting, plundering and destroying Somnath Temple not once but on innumerable occasions. Should the Hindus just forget these deeds or rather deem them as symbols of friendship and amity? It was a wise decision of Sardar Patel and K M Munshi to have the Temple rebuilt by public contribution. As the then President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad said while inaugurating the rebuilt shrine: “It is my view that the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple will be complete on that day when not only a magnificent edifice will arise on this foundation, but the mansion of India’s prosperity will be really that prosperity of which the ancient temple of Somnath was a symbol.” He added “The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction”.
India has had the honour of having, so far, one and only one real, genuine nationalist and truly secular Muslim leader. None before him and none after him. His name, Sardar Patel told us, was Jawaharlal Nehru. Understandably, he deemed the reconstruction of the temple as an attempt at Hindu revivalism. Should Hindus reconcile to treat their past humiliations at the hands of invading Muslim marauders as badges of honour?
What happened in 2002 – and Modi will forever be called upon to give his explanation till he’s around – was that the corpse we had planted centuries ago in our garden began to sprout. It has done the act several times before and will do it again and again till we sit down to plan a final deep sea burial.
And Modi claims to have such a plan. Shouldn’t we give him a chance to prove it? Isn’t to his credit that he kept the corpse securely interred for over a decade – something that Gujarat hadn’t witnessed in its bloody communal history?
Meanwhile, thousands of corpses that sprouted in 1984 still await a requiem for the repose of the dead. But who cares for those descended from of a lesser God?
Continued to “Taking on the Phantoms of the Past”