The ghosts of the Gujarat dead will not lay quiet. Those who thought that the massacres of 2002 — that of Godhra and its aftermath—will fade from public memory are mistaken. Murder, especially mass murder, is not something that ever has a closure, especially when the guilty remain unpunished. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s stand on the killings is striking for how it reveals the hollow moral core of the party.
Whether or not the party’s government was guilty of complicity in the massacre of Muslims, we would have expected some expression of remorse. L.K. Advani has claimed that the Babri Masjid’s demolition was the saddest day in his life. Yet neither he, nor Narendra Modi have ever expressed the remotest sense of shame that during their watch — the former was the Union Home Minister and the latter the Chief Minister of the State — hundreds, if not thousands of people were killed by mobs led by goons belonging to the party and its fraternal organisations — the VHP and Bajrang Dal. The consequences of such a moral vacuum are usually severe. If unchecked they lead to the kind of excesses committed by Adolf Hitler, Stalin or Mao Zedong.
Advani and Modi are a real and present danger for our polity. Intelligence agencies are not willing to say so openly, but their actions — Babri Masjid demolition of 1992 and the Gujarat killings of 2002 — gave the biggest fillip to terrorism in the country. Terrorists may need no motivation, but those who believe that a grievance does not play a role in fertilising the ground for recruiting terrorists are deluding themselves. In 1991, when Pakistan wanted to incite Indian Muslims, they sent Manjit Singh alias Lal Singh to Aligarh, Ahmedabad and other places disguised as a Muslim, Aslam Gill, because they had no reliable Indian Muslim agent. He found the ground sterile and was arrested in 1992. But that same year, Advani and his cohorts brought down the Babri Masjid and spurred horrific riots across India, especially in Surat and Mumbai. The result? There has been no shortage of recruits thereafter.
The elections in Gujarat are important, maybe, the BJP even has good reason to believe that they are crucial. But they are only one state elections in a very large country. Recent elections and political trends have indeed shown that the hard Hindutva line of the BJP may give dividends in Gujarat, but nearly everywhere else it will cost the party heavily.
The reason is that while Modi’s personality and Gujarat’s history may be tailor made for a chauvinist campaign, the rest of the country is marching to a different tune. This was manifest in the UP state elections recently where the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat. In almost every constituency, Muslims, who may constitute anywhere between 50 per cent and 15 per cent, voted only to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BJP should not have forgotten the lesson of 2004 when it lost what was an almost shoo-in election. Allies like Chandrababu Naidu squarely blamed Gujarat for the defeat. Andhra’s Muslims are numerically less than those in UP, but if they vote en bloc against a party aligned to the BJP, it makes a difference. In the divided polity of the country, a bloc vote of 5, 10 and 15 per cent is enough to spell disaster for a party.
The BJP’s tallest leaders — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishen Advani — are well aware of this. It was the former’s acceptability with constituents that made the National Democratic Alliance possible. Not for nothing did Vajpayee seek to have Modi dismissed in the wake of the Gujarat happenings. Advani, too, is aware of the national ramifications of the Gujarat BJP’s near-homicidal attitude towards the Muslims and sought to square the circle by praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah, only to fall afoul of the RSS leadership. So the challenge before the party remains — be inclusive and go against the RSS’s Hindutva lakshman rekha; be exclusive and run the risk of being dumped by the
The Modi position on Sohrabuddin Sheikh killing lacks any kind of ethical or moral foundation. In his fulminations, Modi does not refer to the “collateral” murder of Kausar Bi, Sohrabuddin’s spouse. If she was killed only because she was the wife of a bad man, the logical extension of the argument could be that we have the licence to kill the family of a terrorist, and, perhaps, members of the the community from which the terrorist hails. Those who laud Modi because he is only advocating a tough line against terrorists need to carefully look at the slippery slope ahead.
In our Constitutional scheme of things, only the judiciary has the right to punish wrong-doers. Neither the President, Prime Minister nor Chief Minister have this right, most certainly not police personnel like D.G. Vanzara, or for that matter S.S. Rathi and the other murderers in uniform who the media insists on calling “encounter specialists”.
Modi and Advani have perhaps not thought about this, but the only other set of individuals who believe that they have the right to decide whether or not “wrong-doers” shall live or die are terrorists. Modi’s posture is no different from that of a terrorist.
A great deal now depends on the Congress party. Its hands are not clean, though they are cleaner than that of the BJP. But for a brief flurry of “when a big tree falls” rhetoric, the party has steered clear of arrogantly defending the Sikh massacres of 1984. That it has kept politicians like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler in the margin is proof that there is some sense of guilt in the party. But it has everything to gain, and nothing to lose by taking a hard line against religious, ethnic and caste fanatics. There may be losses, but in the long term there can only be gains. Nothing, in any way, could be worse than its fate in the last couple of decades. It has pandered to forces of casteism, chauvinism and fundamentalism and still remains unrewarded by the electorate.
As the clock ticks for the next general elections, it is clear that neither the Bharatiya Janata Party, nor the Congress will come near to a working majority on their own. Both will need support of substantial chunks — Left parties, TDP, AIDMK/DMK, BSP, SP, various factions of the Janata Dal and so on. Look at the list. None of them are likely to back a party that has a hawkish anti-Muslim stand.
Given the usually craven behaviour of the Congress, I may be over-interpreting the signs, but BJP and Modi may be walking into a trap of the Congress party’s making. Sonia’s “maut ke saudagar” comment immediately got Modi’s goat and his hard-line response has now set the tone for the party’s Gujarat campaign. The Bharatiya Janata Party may yet savour temporary success in the state, but hriday samrat Narendra Modi’s victory will spell disaster for the party elsewhere.
The article appeared in Mail Today December 7, 2007