Whither democracy, Welcome mobocracy ...

Topic started by ravishankar (@ wigner.ceg.uiuc.edu) on Sun May 26 12:36:57 .
All times in EST +10:30 for IST.


In his famous speech on August 14,1947, Nehru
said, "We have often been unworthy followers of
his [Gandhiji] and have strayed from his message
..." and expressed hopes for a better future.
However, his optimism proved to be unfounded for
we first killed Gandhiji and then set about
killing whatever he stood for. Hardly had we
recovered from the trauma of partition when
trouble started brewing again. In December 1949,
a crowd illegally broke open the Babri Masjid
locks and installed an idol of Ram claiming that
the mosque had been built on the debris of a Ram

In the absence of conclusive evidence,
maintaining the status quo would have been the
natural choice. But the then District Magistrate
KK Nayyar, who later joined the Jan Sangh,
promptly closed the mosque for prayers. Thus
started one of the longest, bloodiest and
evidently avoidable disputes.

Subjudice for more than 50 years now, the Ram
Temple issue has caused numerous communal riots
claiming thousands of human lives, not to
mention the stark polarization of society along
religious lines. Significantly, when reliable
historical records existed, as in the case of the
Somnath temple, there was no opposition to a
reclamation. Infact, the Somnath temple was
inaugurated by no less a person than the then
President, Rajendra Prasad.

The recent pogrom in Gujarat has alone claimed
more lives than Kargil. In a recent interview,
noted political scientist Ghanshyam Shah
recounts the sequence of events that led to the
Ahmedabad riots of 1969. A few months before
the riots, the RSS formed the Dharma Raksha
Samiti (Religion Protection Council), and the
1965 war with Pakistan was used to whip up
nationalist and anti-Pakistan sentiments.

Just before the riots, the Jan Sangh leaders
Balraj Madhok and Vajpayee made provocative
speeches, with the latter appealing to the
'rashtra bhakti' (patriotism) of the people. I
have chosen to highlight the Ahmedabad riots,
for when analyzed in conjunction with the
present carnage, it's easy to see how far we
have slipped in the 33 years since then.

The Hindu Right (HR) had then boasted that it
was for the first time in India that more
Muslims were killed than Hindus, and that the
Muslims had been taught a lesson [Shreekant
Sambrani, Gujarat's Burning Train: India's
Inferno?]. The death sheet is even more to its
liking today, and yes, the comments are the same
too. Pakistan-bashing and 'protection' of
Hinduism continue to be their pet themes.

The brutish majority that the Hindus were/are,
they were/are hardly the ones requiring
protection. Therefore, the name 'Dharma Raksha
Samiti' does sound ludicrous. Ludicrous it is,
no doubt, but the joke is on us who let such
labels pass. Before I go any further, a brief
digression on the HR - its views and aims - is
in order.

V D Savarkar, president of the Hindu Mahasabha
from 1937 to 1942, and the 'father' of the HR in
India, declared in August 1938: "Germany has
every right to resort to Nazism and Italy to
Fascism and events have justified that those
isms and forms of governments were imperative
and beneficial to them under the conditions that
obtained there." [Marzia Casolari, Hindutva's
foreign tie-up in the 1930s].

In October 1938, he went further in his defence
of Nazism: "A Nation is formed by a majority
living therein. What did the Jews do in Germany?
They being in minority were driven out from
Germany". And in July 1939: "Nationality did not
depend so much on a common geographical area as
on unity of thought, religion, language and
culture. For this reason the Germans and the
Jews could no be regarded as a nation".

Later that year, in the 21st session of the Hindu
Mahasabha, he laid all doubts to rest with his
comment: "...the Indian Muslims are on the whole
more inclined to identify themselves and their
interests with Muslims outside India than Hindus
who live next door, like Jews in Germany".

The obvious conclusion is that since Muslims and
Hindus don't possess a 'unity of thought,
religion, language and culture', they can't
coexist. And being the minority community,
Muslims need to be at the mercy of the Hindus.
The following comment by Golwalkar, one of the
early stalwarts of the RSS, further exemplifies
the exclusionism of the HR:
"To keep up the purity of the Race and
its culture, Germany shocked the world
by her purging the country of the
Semitic Races - the Jews ... Germany has
also shown how well nigh impossible it
is for Races and cultures, having
differences going to the root, to be
assimilated into one united whole, a
good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn
and profit by ... in one word, they
(Muslims) must cease to be foreigners or
may stay in the country wholly
subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming
nothing, deserving no privileges, far
less any preferential treatment, not even
citizen's rights".

This comment being too explicit for public
consumption, Vajpayee sought to distance himself
from this saying this was Golwalkar's personal
opinion. However, a recent RSS declaration
passed after the Gujarat carnage, "Let the
Muslims understand that their real safety lies
in the goodwill of the majority", suggests
otherwise. Golwalkar's legacy certainly lives on
in the RSS.

Fear, hatred or resentment of the minorities is
understandable if
i) they have been in power for a long time and
have consistently discriminated against the
majority, like the erstwhile apartheid regime in
South Africa.
The HR has constantly harped on the
atrocities on Hindus in the era of Mahmud of
Gazni and the like. Call it selective
magnanimity or selective amnesia, it ignores the
centuries spent under the not-so-benevolent
British rule. Savarkar, after initially having
been very active in the freedom struggle, later
veered around to the view that
"... our interests were so closely bound
together the essential thing was for
Hinduism and Great Britain to be
friends; and the old antagonism was
no longer necessary". [Letter to the
Secretary of State for India, October
Clearly, past atrocities don't seem to weigh
heavily in deciding the object of retribution.
In any case, in avenging the misdeeds of Gazni
et al, the HR ends up emulating those it claims
to despise. Whether this reflects its hypocrisy
or moral and intellectual bankruptcy (or both)
is open to debate.

ii). successive governments have appeased the
minorities (at the expense of the majority).
The establishment of a secular state ruled
out, atleast in principle, discrimination
against Muslims. Equal rights to Muslims is a
far cry from the dictatorship of the Hindus that
the HR had envisaged. Caught as it is in a
fascist time warp, the HR perceives secularism
to be a form of minority (Muslim) appeasement,
and has propagated this myth (of Muslim
appeasement) to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments.
The 'Hindu Rashtra' that it couldn't attain
through legislation, it hopes to attain through
Hindu 'revival'.

But why go to such great lengths to vilify the
Muslims, why not directly eliminate them? The
democracy, however imperfect, that we are, it's
not possible to suppress active opposition of
the multitude, certainly not for long, as Indira
Gandhi learnt the hard way.

Thus, for any action to succeed in the long
term, you need to win the support (or ensure the
apathy) of the majority. And naked aggression is
anathema to the majority. Infact, one of the
many reasons attributed for the fall of Napoleon
is that of his troops losing their motivation
when it finally dawned on them that they were no
longer defending themselves, but were invading
others. The inherent goodness of humans coming
to the fore, if you like.

To get over this unpleasant (and fast
diminishing) facet of human nature, one needs to
get the facts 'right'. And history is evidence
to the pivotal role of propaganda. Repeated over
and over again to a captive audience, the hunter
often becomes the hunted. The good students of
history that they are, all this was not lost on
the HR. Over the many years, they have therefore
focused extensively on the demonification of
Muslims, mostly through lurid details of
atrocities on Hindus in the era of Mahmud of
Gazni, and also on exaggerated accounts of more
recent acts of violence by Muslims.

Contrary views are summarily dismissed as either
Marxist rants or acts of Muslim appeasement.
While on this, let me also point out that
their having to harp on events of the distant
past is a give-away to the patronage they have
enjoyed under the various governments since
'independence'. At the very least, it's clear
evidence that successive governments have been
anything but inimical to them.

While anti-Pakistan rhetoric has always been
used to whip up anti-Muslim frenzy, the HR now
seems to be preparing to use it to retroactively
justify the current pogrom in Gujarat. Advani's
recent statement "There are reliable reports
(including intercepts) that speak of underworld
elements being in touch with their mentors in
Pakistan regarding retaliatory action in Gujarat
and even in parts of Maharashtra" conveys as
much, if not more.

No one would dispute the propensity of the
underworld to foment trouble, but Advani seems
to have completely missed a point. Maybe, just
maybe, it was intentional, but I would like to
remind him of it anyway. While the Muslim Right
(MR) operates from underground, the equally (if
not more) odious Bal Thackarey roams around in
broad daylight, secure in the company of his
thugs and often under police protection. And
with him, you have the added benefit of not
having to depend on cell phone intercepts, for
he sends out instructions thick and fast in his
venom-spitting editorials in Saamna.

In the words of Justice Srikrishna, "There is no
doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took
the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and
their properties under the guidance of several
leaders of the Shiv Sena from the level of
Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal
Thackeray who, like a veteran General, commanded
his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organized
attacks against Muslims."

Is not Matoshri as much a hub of terrorist
activity as the underworld? Apparently,
Thackarey is not a threat to national security.
Nor are the moronic drivels of the Ashok
Singhals, Giriraj Kishores and Vinay Katiyars.
And Advani's oft-repeated (in his election
speeches in the past) claim "Mandir Wahin
BanAyenge" (We will build the temple THERE).
None of them got taken to the cleaners, did
they? For men may come and men may go, the
Thackareys go on for ever.

Contrast this with how we have treated the
Muslims. A recent remark by an Inspector General
of Police, "the Kolkata police is considered
soft by Pakistani criminals ... the Kolkata
police does not enter the Muslim areas of
the city and that is helpful [to terrorists]"
aptly sums the attitude of the police. Muslims
and terrorists and all terrorists are Muslims.
No doubt they have had to re-assert their
patriotism whenever the self-anointed upholders
of Hinduism demand.

The Srikrishna Commission, like several other
inquiry commissions before and after, was highly
critical of the role of the police,
"The response of police to appeals from
desperate victims, particularly
Muslims, was cynical and utterly
indifferent ... Police officers and men,
particularly at the junior level,
appeared to have an inbuilt bias against
the Muslims which was evident in their
treatment of the suspected Muslims and
Muslim victims of riots. The treatment
given was harsh and brutal and, on
occasions, bordering on the inhuman."

Time and again, the state has also sought refuge
in the age old dictum of the police being vastly
outnumbered, and the trishul and spear-wielding
mobs have had a free run. So emboldened have they
become that an armed gang of VHP and Bajrang Dal
activists recently ransacked the Orissa
assembly. Reluctance to act tough on those who
have been named by eyewitnesses - Parveen
Togadia, Jaideep Patel, and more of their ilk,
and shameless partisanship as evidenced by the
discriminatory charging of Muslim and Hindu
rioters (the former booked under POTA, and the
latter under ordinary criminal charges) doesn't
augur well for the future.

If there is no hope for justice, the more
militant among the Muslim youth, be it of their
own accord or through the prodding of the MR,
may resort to violent retaliation. The whole of
the Muslim community will then be discredited
and the Ashok Singhals will jump out to say "It
is time to catch Muslims by their necks and tell
them where their place lies". What do you expect
them to do, chant "Jai Shri Ram"?

"Har Saans Aakhri saans maaloom hoti hai" (Every
breath seems to be the last one) says a tired
old Muslim in one of Anand Patwardhan's films.
How do we convince him and others and ourselves
of a better morrow? From our safe environs, we
can always say 'Satyameva Jayate' (Truth alone
triumphs), but when truth ultimately triumphs,
will there be any Muslim left in India? Not if
the 'experiments' continue at the present rate.

Last week, the police picked up 300 swords and
daggers and their owner, a Bajrang Dal
'sanghathan mantri', in Rajkot. How long before
the 'silent majority' decides we have had enough?
Continual violence, be it in Punjab or Kashmir
or Gujarat has dehumanized us. No one
exemplifies this better than George Fernandes,
ex-socialist turned Hindutva apologist, who had
the temerity to remark "A pregnant woman's
stomach being slit, a daughter being raped in
front of her mother aren't new things". Mass
homelessness is not new too; the Narmada dam
evictees were victims of 'the greater common
good', and the Muslims in Gujarat victims of
Hindu fascism.

The end result is the same - summers in tin
shelters, and an uncertain future. But this
doesn't pain us, for didn't Lord Ram spend 14
years in a forest? We have seen and forgotten
Bhopal, so that doesn't shock us too. So what's
new? Getting nuked, maybe. The rate at which we
are arming ourselves and thereby promoting
an arms race, one more term for this government
and this day won't be too far off.

The Gujarat pogrom has punctured holes in the
pervading sense of security that the BJP and its
spin-doctors had managed to instill in the
gullible sections of the populace. It's also a
timely reminder that we have got our priorities
wrong. Now that we have Prithvi for Pakistan and
Agni for China, we should have had nothing to
worry. Why then do we still find ourselves in
such a mess? What makes us so vulnerable to the
supposed machinations of the evil forces from

No use blaming the ISI for all violence. There's
so much dormant anger that a volcano is always
waiting to erupt. Our 'leaders' have sidestepped
the main dangers and concocted convenient new
ones. Communalism has plagued us for long, and
because of the brutish majority and a
'sympathetic' bureaucracy, the HR has wreaked
considerable havoc. Some opine that tolerance is
the need of the hour, that harsh criticism will
ensure further polarization. I beg to differ.

We have been sucking up to the HR for a long
time now, all the time advising restraint on the
part of the Muslims, for it's easy to make
demands of a hapless people than face up to a
violent and 'awakened' HR. After all that has
happened, Vajpayee still chose to blame the
victims themselves for "resorting to terror,
threat and intimidation".

Even outside of the HR, there's a tendency
to blame the victims - that they deserve their
'misfortune' - and 'get on with life'. Several
women's groups and the English media have been
extremely courageous in getting to the truth. It
behooves upon us to spread their findings, to
inform people as to who is really being
appeased, to confront the perpetrators of the
pogrom with the truth, and do a modicum of
justice to the victims.

The horrifying Jammu suicide attack has already
shifted media focus from internal to
cross-border terrorism, which is what the HR
wants. Therefore, unless we continue to
highlight the sorry state of the victims,
Gujarat will soon be history, and the victims
will fade into oblivion.

We have dug ourselves a deep hole. How do we get
out of it? What faces us is not a purely
political problem, but there's no denying that
the political ascendancy of the BJP has greatly
facilitated the saffronization of the police,
bureaucracy and education. If it's not to get
any worse, and I say so for it's always
comforting to think we are not already in an
abyss, we need to vote out the HR.

The Indian Left has always been at the forefront
of the anti-fundamentalist campaign and would
have been the ideal replacement, but confined
as it is to a few pockets, it is certainly not
strong enough to wage a lone battle against the
HR. Therefore, it needs to ally with other
parties opposed to the HR and present a united
front against the HR. This is all the more
essential for we don't have the luxury of a
second round of run-off elections.

The opposition parties don't have a very
flattering record either; in the past, some of
them have even hobnobbed with the
fundamentalists. For this reason, there's a
tendency to dismiss all of them (and those that
ally with them) as equally bad and undeserving
of any support. However, as Arundhati Roy points
out in her recent essay, they are not all the
same. While others sinned with trepidation, the
HR does it with pride; a change of guard can
only result in an improvement in the status quo.

It also suits the Congress, the most likely
beneficiary of a broad anti-HR alliance, politically to implement the recommendations of
the various inquiry Commissions, for several of
them (except maybe the one pertaining to the
Delhi carnage) have squarely blamed the HR. So,
the Congress can be expected to act, if not out
of good intentions, atleast to score political
brownie points.

Thus, myopic as it might seem, the immediate
objective should be to install a less evil
government. As Bhagat Singh says, compromise is
not as ignoble and deplorable as we generally
think; it is an indispensable factor in the
political strategy.

After the Gujarat carnage, Goa Chief Minister
Manohar Parrikar said, "... if Modi stands today
from any constituency in India, Hindus will vote
for him." I hope the public sends a strong
message that violence begets ostracization, not
votes. A clear message will not only discourage
the fundamentalists, but will also serve a
warning to the future governments not to hobnob
with them.

I hope we take a leaf out of the French. Jacques
Chirac was no darling of the masses, but the
French still turned out in large numbers to keep
out the bigger evil. Will the Indian voters do
an encore? Yes, I hope.


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