- Subhash Gatade
|Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana. Photo: Amarujala|
The BJP’s legislators in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, were jailed in September after the stringent National Security Act was imposed on them for their alleged role in the Muzaffarnagar riots…Mr Som, accused of uploading a video on his Facebook wall which reportedly sparked communal tension in the area, was arrested in Meerut on September 21. He is also facing allegations of having made inflammatory speeches.Mr Rana was arrested from Lucknow on September 20 for his alleged role in stoking the violence which left over 60 people dead and rendered more than 40,000 homeless.
It was a gathering not much reported outside the Hindutva laboratory. After their humiliating defeat at the hustings at the centre (Year 2004) it was the first meeting of its kind which witnessed coming together of many stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar to felicitate one among them. One could see all the big names of the Parivar hierarchy— the ex deputy PM L.K.Advani, Narendra Modi and the likes of Togadias and Singhals, and a galaxy of saffron robed sadhus. The programme held in Ahmedabad to felicitate Prof Keka Shastry, VHP leader and a well-known writers’ entering the centenary year seemed an ideal occasion for them to air their views in Gujarat.
Whatever may be the pluses and minuses of Prof. Keka Shastry’s literary works, the rest of India had learnt of this gentleman only in the aftermath of Gujarat carnage. It was through one of his interviews to the rediff.com people ( ‘It had to be done, VHP leader says of riots’, Sheela Bhatt, 12 March 2002) that people heard how things unfolded in an organized way after the Godhra incident. The interview was an admission for the first time by the Hindutva brigade of their direct role in the carnage which officially saw over 2,000 deaths, uprooting of lakhs of people from their homes and hearth and loss of hope and peace for millions of people. Rarely had one come across an interview so direct and so chilling.
He told the correspondent that “[t]he list of shops owned by Muslims in Ahmedabad was prepared on the morning of 28 February itself.” In the tape recorded interview he said, “In the morning we sat down and prepared the list. We were not prepared in advance.” When the correspondent asked him why they did it, he responded “It had to be done, it had to be done. We don’t like it, but we were terribly angry…” When the correspondent asked him how he, a scholar and littérateur could condone the burning of innocents, he responded: “The youngsters have done some things which we don’t like. We don’t support it. But we can’t condemn it because they are our boys.” He added for good measure “We don’t believe that the boys have done anything wrong, because this was the result of an outburst….We needed to do something.” The interview had also explained the inactivity of the police in simple terms by underlining that “they feared death” and “some of them were Hindus who thought “Let the mob do whatever it wants.” While situation could get aggravated and bigger riots were possible.
There is no doubt that if the Parivar people would not have been in power this ‘literary’ figure would have been hauled up and put behind bars for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language” etc. and for “acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony ( Section 153-A, IPC)”, or “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class, by insulting its religion or religious beliefs (Section 295-A,IPC) “, or “ uttering words, etc with deliberate intent to wound religious feeling (Section 298, IPC)”, or similar other provisions which have clearly laid down punishment for offences committed under such acts. But he was not even called to the police station to explain his utterances. He seemed putting it in black and white what others of his ilk were implementing through this ‘successful experiment.’
While Keka Shastry is long dead, the basic idea to ‘honour’ such elements seems to have caught on in circles in this part of South Asia whose politics is based on hate and exclusion. If we have Hindutva supremacists on this side of the border felicitating the Keka Shastris, Islamists fundamentalists on that side of the border honouring the Qadris, Buddhists extremists in adjoining countries glorifying their Wirathus or the fanatics of the Bondu Bala Sene.
Rose petals for fanatics and bullets for saner voices seem to be becoming the new norm.
“My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without, I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down.” (Mera azm itna buland hai ki paraye sholon ka darr nahin, Mujhe khauf aatish e gul se hai kaheen yeh chaman ko jala na de.)
- Urdu couplet by Shakeel Badayuni tweeted by Salman Taseer eight hours before his assassination
More than three years back Pakistan, had made headlines over the manner in which a murderer, Malik Qadri, member of the elite police force, who had killed Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, (4 January 2011) was declared a ‘Gazi of Islam’ (warrior for Islam) by some fundamentalists, and the jubilation which awaited him when he was presented in the Islamabad court, with someone from the crowd even showering rose petals on him, was seen on television throughout the world.
It is known that Salman Taseer was killed for his defense of Aasiabi, a Christian working woman, falsely implicated under the infamous blasphemy law. Perturbed over her conviction, and despite his party’s -Pakistan People’s Party -refusal to take a firm stand on the issue, Taseer stood his ground and even demanded a repeal of the infamous blasphemy law. There is no denying that with the growing belligerence of the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan, with a few Mullahs even declaring Salman Taseer Wajib Ul Katl (worth to be killed), few from the then ruling dispensation summoned the courage to support him.
Under this law, introduced under the Zia ul Haque regime in the mid eighties, anyone can be charged on the simple claim of having shown disrespect towards the founder of Islam or the Quranic scriptures. Although nobody has faced judicial execution under this law till date, many have been killed by reactionary forces after their acquittal by the court.
It is to the credit of the vibrant civil society in Pakistan that it not only opposed the judicial verdict in Aasiabi’s case but also demanded that the infamous law be repealed or amended. It was clear that these efforts to save Aasiabi’s life and seek repeal/revisions in the controversial law had received a tremendous setback with Salman Taseer’s assassination.
It is a notable that barring the ‘lunatic fringe’ in Indian polity, most people had felt discomfort over the developments in Pakistan. On the other hand, the developments in Pakistan were witnessed with glee by Talibans of a different kind, namely the Hindutva Supremacists in India, who have been pursuing their very own agenda of majoritarianism. They know it very well that any turn towards Talibanisation of Pakistan would further augment the strength of these fanatics here. We should not forget that the ascendancy of these forces in India towards the end of 20 th and the beginning of the 21 st century has also been the period when for the first time in Pakistan’s history fundamentalist forces could achieve electoral dominance in two of its states.
As the saying goes, reactionaries/ bigots grow together. It need be underlined here that much before the episode involving Malik Qadri and the welcome he received in Islamabad court with rose petals, Hindutva terrorists involved in the Malegaon bomb blast (2008) which had killed many innocents were also greeted with rose petals when they were presented in the courts in Pune and Nashik. The likes of Lt Col Purohit, Pragya Thakur, Shankaracharya Dayanand Pandey had received a ‘hero’s welcome’at the hands of a crowd owing allegiance to Hindutva formations.
“The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins….”
- I F Stone
It would be a revealing exercise to understand the commonality between the murder of the leader of a private army of landlords at the hands of his own gang members in faraway Bihar over distribution of booty, the felicitation of a terrorist lodged in jail as ‘living martyr’ (zinda Shaheed) in Punjab or the anointment of a hatemonger as the poster boy of the main opposition party? Formally speaking there are no connections but if one tries to dig further few subterranean linkages become clear. Whether one agrees or not they exhibit the growing legitimacy of authoritarian, fanatic, exclucivist politics in this part of the subcontinent.
It is difficult to believe the manner in which the mass murderer called Brahmeshwar Singh was glorified and the state turned mute spectator to indiscriminate violence unleashed by his supporters (mainly antisocial elements belonging to his caste) or the manner in which two senior leaders of the saffron dispensation – ex Central Cabinet minister C.P. Thakur and Giriraj Singh, then member of Nitish’s cabinet – vied with each other to declare the murderer as another ‘Gandhi’.
Not to be rest content the felicitation of the terrorist called Rajoana who had been instrumental in killing of innocents was accompanied by demands from the SGPC (Shiromani Gurudwara Prabadhank Committee) to have a memorial erected inside the precincts of the golden temple itself, in memory of those who were ‘martyred’ during the 1984 military action to flush out Bhindranwale and his close comrades.
The Kafquasquean metamorphosis of the hatemonger as ‘development man’ has been discussed for quite some time. Forget the fact that there have been more than 45 reports prepared by national-international human rights organisations over the bloody developments in the state under his rule and amicus curaie (friend of court) ordering his prosecution for various acts of omission and commission in the 2002 carnage. Forget the fact that thousands of people uprooted during those days are still condemned to live a life of internally displaced persons.
Nobody can miss the ‘coincidence’ that in all the three cases mentioned above saffrons happen to be a common factor. And there is nothing surprising about it. Close watchers of their politics very well know that fascination for violence is an integral part of their weltanshauung (world view).
And now comes the news that while the communal situation in and around areas of Muzaffarnagar has still not reached complete normalcy, with around 40,000 riot affected internally displaced – mostly Muslims – still condemned to live in relief camps the BJP has decided to ‘honour’ two of its controversial MLAs. Looking at the fact that the Sangh Parivar is engaged in a systematic and organised campaign to polarise votes in western UP before the 2014 parliamentary elections, it would be too much to expect that it would listen to saner voices and drop this programme to avoid any exacerbation of the situation.
Perhaps it is a wakeup call for all those who cherish values of secularism and are fighting for real deepening of democracy that they are able to look at the larger game plan and strategise accordingly so that such anti-human forces could be put on the defensive.
Subhash Gatade is a New Socialist Initiative (NSI) activist. He is also the author of Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India, and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India.