Revisiting Gujarat

RAMULYA GANGULI Maya Kodnani's arrest on the charges of rioting during the 2002 Gujarat outbreak is yet another inglorious first for the saffron brotherhood. A few months ago, another woman, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, was incarcerated for involvement in acts of terrorism. Earlier, the harridans of the Hindutva brigade like Sadhvi Rithambara were known only for their anti-minority rhetoric. But, now, the saffron warriors of the gentle sex have seemingly turned from words to deeds. What is worth noting is that Kodnani is not a member of the unwashed masses, who attacked Muslims in Gujarat and torched churches in Orissa. She is an educated person, a gynaecologist. Yet, she clearly had no time for the Hippocratic oath during the carnage. But that wasn't the only moral lapse. In fact, the deviations from ethical norms at the time as well as later characterised both the saffron individuals and the BJP governments in the state and at the centre. Kodnani's role could not have been unknown to the BJP. In fact, it was evidently such participation at various levels which made Atal Behari Vajpayee say that the people of his party were influenced by the outbreak to become involved - bhavnao se parichalit thhey, in his words. Of all the BJP leaders, Vajpayee was the only person who had the honesty to speak the truth. As he also did when he said that the Gujarat riots were responsible for the BJP's 2004 defeat. But the Union home minister of the time, L.K. Advani, maintained a deafening silence then as now. If the loh purush or the iron man with pretensions to be Vallabhbhai Patel deemed it prudent to play safe, the reason probably was that he has to be on the right side of Narendra Modi to win from his parliamentary constituency of Gandhinagar. For him, therefore, to have echoed Vajpayee would have been politically fatal. To quote his charge against Manmohan Singh, he was too weak to speak the truth. Reports of Advani's proximity to Kodnani because of their Sindhi background make his silence even more unpalatable. Modi's acquiescence in the wrong-doings through the last seven years is not surprising. But, what he apparently did not reckon with was that repercussions from an outbreak of this nature never really die down in a democracy with its multiple centres of power. Although Modi had the insolence to tell Vajpayee during a press conference after the riots that he was adhering to the raj dharma of neutrality when the prime minister advised him to follow the rules of governance, he has spent the years since then to divert attention from the riots to his developmental efforts. But, as the arrests of Kodnani and a VHP functionary, as well as of several police officers, have shown, the issue will remain alive till the guilty are punished, as in the Best bakery case. Despite the attempts by the Modi administration to close the 4,000-odd cases on the grounds of lack of evidence or inability to find the culprits or the changes of testimony, there was to be no running away from the truth because the Supreme Court, the human rights commission, the indefatigable non-government organisations, etc - ensured that justice was ultimately done. However, the Kodnani episode points to a deeper malaise. It emphasises the culpability of a party in harbouring such elements and of a society, which plays an acquiescent role in electing them. Although there is a parallel with the presence of criminals in nearly all the parties, there is a difference of degree where communalists are involved. While the common or garden anti-socials indulge in intimidation, extortion and even murder, their victims are individuals or small groups and their motive is rivalry, whether personal or political. In a riot, however, an entire community is targeted for hours on end with the police being made to look away, as it happened in Gujarat. What is more, no one is spared - not even women and children. That's not all. There is also a philosophy behind the choice of targets - whether Muslims in Gujarat or Christians in Orissa. It is not only their categorisation as alien and, therefore, unworthy to be citizens of India, but also the charge that their presence is a positive danger to the majority community, which makes them so vulnerable. The threat posed by them is supposed to be demographic through rapid breeding, as in the case of Muslims, and conversions where Christians are concerned. It is also cultural since they encourage "foreign" traditions like Valentine's day, for instance. It is this philosophical underpinning going back to Golwalkar and Savarkar, which explains why even educated persons are swayed by their bhavna or emotion, as Vajpayee said. The BJP's role in deliberating fomenting such atavistic sentiments also explains why the party shielded Kodnani till it could no longer do so. The writer is a former assistant editor of The Statesman, India's Kolkata-based English newspaper and this article is also published in today's edition

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