Friday, May 30, 2014

We all saw it coming...

...we just did not realize how bad things were. The most damning observation by Anand Soondas is the currency of "Hindu truth" vs. "Muslim truth" that has been gaining ground for quite some time. Hindus are now united (mostly) in terms of how fed up they are about muslims.

Finally, though, the marauding Muslims had been dealt a blow for all of history’s crimes. From Chengiz to Babur and Jinnah to Dawood, everything had been avenged in one fell swoop. And for this they gave credit to one man. Narendra Modi. For once a Hindu had stood up, and how.
We can add the Bangladesh genocide and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Pak/Bangla and many others to that long bloody list (see also Tipu Sultan). Never forget, their heroes are our villains.

The Muslims do not really have much with which to retaliate with against this tidal wave of hate: respond with bombs or threats of partition, and the backlash is (will be) overwhelming. The only option is to sue for peace and to live in ghettos (the Sri Lankan model). 

Sad to say, this is how things will be, from now on to infinity. Hindus will (have already) disappear from a large part of the South Asian land-mass. The muslims will face the sword of injustice everywhere, in India for just being a muslim, in Pakistan (and Bangladesh) for being the wrong type of muslim. 

We actually agree with Arundhati Roy that the new govt does not have an agenda for explicit harm towards muslims, but there are many indirect ways in which the screws can be tightened.

How about Muslims joining hands with the other minorities - the Sikhs, the Jains, the Christians, the Buddhists and the Parsis to face a common threat? Sorry, it is not going to happen. The Christians are secure in their fortresses in the South and in the North-East (except the tribal communities dispersed all over, and even in that case, elite Christians do not have much sympathy to spare) . The Sikhs are already in alliance with the Hindu Brotherhood. The Jains and Parsis are actually pillars of the Brotherhood, they are some of the biggest supporters of Modi.

Not to forget, the Muslims are at fault as well. Everywhere in South Asia, and if history is any guide, there is not one minority community which will feel inclined to be friendly or accommodative towards muslims. If Muslims in India can harass Tibetans because of what is happening to Rohingyas in Burma, then why should any neo-Buddhist feel kindly towards them?

Our only quibble with Anand Soondas is that Congress knows why it failed the Indian people, but it will not have the guts to do a proper introspection and take necessary steps for re-invention. As a wise BPite says, Congress is doomed with the N-G family at the top, and it is equally doomed without them.

Ayodhya is an unusually sleepy town with a slightly overpowering population of monkeys. It generally goes about with its existence unmindful of its place in either ancient or modern history. But the early months of 2002 were different. Its people were then wide awake – a few in anticipation, a majority in anxiety. Much of India, too, was on its toes. 

The VHP had threatened to launch a 100-day yagya to press for construction of the Ram mandir and, by February 17, sadhus, mahants, sanyasis, party workers from across the country affiliated to various saffron fronts had begun converging at Karsevakpuram for the great prayer, to god and to government. The air crackled with the fire lit by hundreds of volunteers. Copious amounts of ghee flung into the flames made it seem like summer inside the camps. Something was bound to singe.

The place had been turned into a fortress, crawling with jawans and officers from the paramilitary forces and sundry intelligence men in mufti from the local and central units. There was talk of the army being called in if the VHP and the akharas did not back down. On the face of it, they didn’t. 

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s repeated entreaties to everyone to wait for the court’s order on the impossibly vexed temple tangle were summarily dismissed by the yagya organizers. Ramchandra Parmahans, the eccentric president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, often boomed that it was not a matter to be decided by the judiciary as it concerned faith, the religious sentiments of Hindus. He accused the BJP of selling out. VHP president Ashok Singhal was equally vituperative and unmoved. This is India, this is Ram lalla’s birthplace, he said. “Nothing will stop us from making the structure.”     
The momentum kept building up. The fires kept burning. Truckloads of kar sevaks kept pouring in. To get the logistics right – food and accommodation, after all, were not unlimited and had to be dispensed with care – individual groups were advised to stay at Karsevakpuram for a stipulated period of time and then head home so that everyone interested in the 100-day programme could get a chance to participate in what the sadhus were calling a historic turning point for India. 

It was one such group returning from Ayodhya that got caught in Godhra on February 27. Fifty-nine Ram sevaks, many among them women and children, were locked inside the blazing compartments of the Sabarmati Express by a Muslim mob to suffocate and burn. 
Something was bound to singe. 
Those were initial days of my reporting career and I was posted in Lucknow as the Uttar Pradesh correspondent for The Telegraph. Though I had come back to base, I wanted to go to Gujarat to see the train for myself and the trail of death and destruction it had triggered off. My editor at that paper finally relented and on the first anniversary of the tragedy, I was on my way to Godhra. It was February 27, 2003. S-6, the roasted and ravaged compartment of the Sabarmati Express, was still there at Signal Falia, the station. It looked sullen and angry at its own fate.

In a report from there, I had then written: “In the one year that has passed, Godhra has changed. Everything is divided — people, loyalties, business, bus stops, hospitals, schools. Even truth. Inquire about any incident and you are bound to get a Hindu truth and a Muslim truth…The Hindu and Muslim populations of this town were already divided, roughly in half, making it one of the most dangerous and communally sensitive hotspots in the country. Now, even the geography seems to have split vertically…

Being a predominantly Muslim locality has not helped. Business in Signal Falia, which lies next to Godhra railway station, has collapsed. The rows of shops that lined the wall adjoining the periphery of the station have been razed. There were 180 shops in all, the bread and butter of more than 2,000 people. Now, there is only one long line of rubble.”

Then, in a dispatch dated February 27, 2003: “The platform wore a deserted look. A quick scan of railway records at Godhra station showed nobody had bought a ticket to board the Sabarmati Express, scheduled to arrive at 2 am. Yet railway security officials patrolled the platform and guards stood outside the station. Five jawans huddled near a bonfire at the station entrance, listening to the commentary of the India-England match. As Ashish Nehra took another wicket, they cackled. At 1.25 am, India’s path to the Super Six stage was looking easier. “Bas, aaj India match jeet jaye, kal ka kal dekha jayega,” a jawan said softly…

The train pulled in ahead of time and lingered at the platform for 15 minutes. The few inside S-6 fidgeted nervously. Suresh Yadav, travelling with six family members, was not interested in the score. “Why isn’t the damn train moving” he muttered. His brother, Ramesh, who was peeping furtively through the closed shutters, didn’t volunteer an answer. There was a general sigh of relief when the train moved, hesitantly, at 1.56 am.”

As I left Godhra and returned to Ahmedabad, traveling to a few other places along the way, there had been one constant refrain from Hindus everywhere – in Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Surat. “Sabak ho gaya.” (They have been taught a lesson.) “Garv hai humko.” (We are proud.) Almost all of them said their anguish had been heightened by the unwillingness of mainstream political parties and the media to condemn unequivocally and in categorical terms what was a most inhuman, unthinkable act of cruelty.

Finally, though, the marauding Muslims had been dealt a blow for all of history’s crimes. From Chengiz to Babur and Jinnah to Dawood, everything had been avenged in one fell swoop. And for this they gave credit to one man. Narendra Modi. For once a Hindu had stood up, and how. In the ten years since the horrific violence startled and shocked Indians with its sheer malevolence and systematic intent, the adulation has hardly ebbed. 

To some extent, I suspect, this lies at the heart of a fair amount of support for the Gujarat chief minister and the man who could be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014. Though there is no evidence yet to prove Modi let the severe reprisals against the Godhra killings go on unabated – something that would eventually take more than 1200 lives – that’s what common folks believe. And sensing the Hindu mahapurush sentiment, Modi hasn’t really gone out of his way to disabuse that notion. If anything, he has worked on that image. His ‘Gujarat model’, he has quietly and subtly signaled, is not just about keeping the economy in place.

Introducing the Vibrant Gujarat campaign a year after the post-Godhra riots was a political masterstroke. This man was a doer. People could do business with him. Faith and finance came together perfectly to photoshop further the portrait. Soon, the Tatas were happy, then the Ambanis, then industry bodies. Even Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan, not known to be too finicky while choosing his friends, is clearly in love with Modi. His ad campaigns have brought in thousands of more tourists to Gujarat. It helps industry to support, and to be seen supporting, Modi – a man unlike the passive Manmohan Singh or the befuddled Rahul Gandhi. It will be a huge bonus if in future he heads the cabinet in New Delhi and there is need for collaborations with and investments from governments and business houses abroad.

Some foreign powers seem pleased with the prospect already and have ended their excommunication of Modi. Ethics seldom come in the way of enterprise. In the largely scripted interactions he’s had – at SRCC and FICCI – in Delhi, no one has grilled him on Godhra. He has instead talked about his vision of India, its powers – both real and imagined – and its potential. Of how it is a nation of mouse-charmers. In any case, the Modi juggernaut now ensures he needn’t go any place where there’ll be uncomfortable questions to answer. That won’t fit in with the painting under construction – of the man on a white horse. He is all about ‘listen’, not ‘ask’.

That no data on Modi’s Gujarat outshining the rest of the country has stood the test of time – or compared better with stats coming out of some of India’s now-performing states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even Bihar (Hooda would insist Haryana, too) – has become irrelevant and ceased to matter. A TOI article pointed out how there’s growing unemployment in Gujarat, how women and children don’t do too well, how dalits are still being victimized, how – far from the promise of farmers selling petrol – large sections are facing acute shortage of water.

In 2005, when the US denied him a visa, Modi said he would make Gujarat such a destination that one day the state will be compared with America. He said farmers would be like Arab sheikhs and will have crude oil pouring out of taps in their fields. That hasn’t happened, and most likely it never will.

But if there is anything equally responsible for the Modi wave apparently sweeping the nation – fuelled, of course, by a fawning, amoral industry and a core Hindutva vote bank – it is the disastrous rule of the UPA government, its PM and an annoying bunch of Gandhi-worshipping, directionless and out of sync ministers. 

On every front the country has only gone down the ladder in this past one decade. The economy is in tatters, security is too casual, transparency is hardly visible and administration is non-existent. The lot of our women has worsened. Even as I write this, there have been four rapes in Delhi in the last 24 hours. A 19-year-old was gang raped and a 5-year-old girl brutalized so badly that she is struggling to stay alive. And this coming after the Nirbhaya case following which the government had vowed to increase police presence and patrolling. Only corruption and disparity have grown. If the number of billionaires and millionaires has gone up, so have the poor and the hungry.

In the hands of UPA 2, India has seemed too large to handle, too diverse to unify, too discontented to be mollified. Latest international rankings show that India fares poorly on all human development indicators such as education, child mortality sex ratio, environment, human rights and gender equality. The situation is actually worse than the indices indicate. 

India ranks at 136 out of 187 countries with comparable data in the Human Development Index. It was at number 94 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, slipping from number 72 among 180 countries in 2007. Our gender inequality index is shameful too – at number 129 out of 147 countries.  

From the absence of food security to custodial torture, and from large-scale displacement of the poor to malnourishment, the Working Group on Human Rights and the UN recently came out with a damning report on India’s rights track record. Not taking into account uprooting due to armed and ethnic conflict, India was estimated to have the highest number of people displaced annually by ‘development’ projects. That’s a whole load of bad news.

The other, quite incredible, move by the Congress and its Gandhi loyalists has been to pitch Rahul as the answer to Modi. They have to understand that the poor guy is just not interested in the top job. In fact, he keeps hinting that he’s trapped in a wrong body. For a party and alliance in disarray, it would be suicidal to have someone so confused helm it. There can be nothing worse than pushing on stage a leader who does not want to lead. It sends out all the wrong signals. Manmohan Singh says he doesn’t discount a third term for himself. That’s a chilling thought. Even for Congressmen. 

If the BJP and its allies do come to power, riding on the back of Modi’s popularity and the disenchantment with the UPA, the Congress will know exactly who to blame. The Congress.

Indians haven’t been so despondent, listless and impatient as they are today. All that large sections of the public want to do is vote out the present government. But if that rage and hope coalesce into a movement that’s ready to have Modi as India’s prime minister, the country, its politics and its people will have a lot to answer – to itself and to the world watching it. Because then we will never be able to hold any politician accountable for the wrong that he does or oversees or fails to stop. And that will be too much of a price to pay – even if it is in the name of development. Or the promise of it.



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