Editorial / Back to basics
The liberal split
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

If there were any doubts, the Bharatiya Janata Party has set them at rest. The Hindutva writ will prevail, no matter what the circumstances. The prime minister himself has made this clear. By refusing to accept the resignation of Mr Narendra Modi, the party national executive has thrown itself publicly behind the actions — or inaction — of the Gujarat chief minister during the recent pogrom in the state. It is immaterial whether or not Mr Modi was culpable in allowing the tragedy in Gujarat to grow to the proportions it did. It is enough that not only the opposition, but also certain members of the National Democratic Alliance and a large section of citizens perceive him to be so. And there can be no escape from the fact that the allegation of communalism against a chief minister makes him unfit for his chair in a secular republic. Such questions are evidently irrelevant to the BJP leadership’s calculations.

The calculations are very clear. The concerted aim of the executive was to reiterate the party’s Hindutva position by trivializing the killings in Gujarat and focussing on the Godhra incident as adequate instigation. This is the only image it can securely hold on to, for it desperately needs to reap the fruits of the sectarian polarization in Gujarat. Mr Modi has been asked to hold assembly elections as soon as possible. The nature of the reasoning behind this decision can be inferred from the fact that precisely this suggestion had been rejected by the prime minister earlier. Without communal polarization Mr Modi and his government would have been in serious trouble. The BJP might have lost the larger of the only two states it now holds. This makes all the more sinister the findings of the report by British diplomats which claims that the violence in Gujarat was pre-planned, and had there been no Godhra there would have been something else.

Possibly the BJP believes that this travesty of democracy through assembly elections would give those members of the NDA demanding Mr Modi’s removal a face-saving formula. Keeping the NDA together is certainly one of its aims. But so far it has always been able to bank on the opportunism of most of its coalition partners. Retaining Mr Modi without a stain on his character is also a clear signal that when push comes to shove, the BJP is on the side of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and their kin.

Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech on the occasion was an inimitable mixture of stridency, callousness and false reasoning. That it marks an apparent volte face from his personal reaction during his recent visit to Gujarat is shocking enough. But what is far more shocking is his condemnation of the entire minority community for following the “jihadi” principle. He has stated in no uncertain terms that all over the world Muslims fail to integrate into the societies they live in, that they believe only in terror and separatism. By turning the premises of the global anti-terror coalition on their heads in order to condemn a whole community of Indian citizens, Mr Vajpayee has emerged as the prime minister of Hindutva hardliners alone.


The last month-and-a-half has been an instructive time. We’ve watched brave and resourceful journalists show and tell the truth about the Gujarat pogrom. We’ve watched those journalists being coshed and beaten by the same police force that helped the pogrom happen. We’ve been shown, live, on prime time, an elected chief minister in a state of war with one section of his people: who can forget Narendra Modi’s frozen, I’d-rather-be-elsewhere look when he stood by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Shah Alam Muslim refugee camp. We have been taken inside those camps by television cameras and have formed some approximate idea of the scale of human displacement that the pogrom created. Some fifty to a hundred thousand Muslims in Gujarat are Internally Displaced Persons.

The most explicit lesson of this murderous time has been that the distinction often made between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party, Praveen Togadia and Vajpayee, the lunatic fringe and the respectable mainstream of the sangh parivar, is a tactical ploy, a good cop-bad cop stratagem that obscures the ideological oneness of the organizations and politicians that speak from that platform. A few days ago newspapers were reporting the dressing-down Vajpayee allegedly gave Modi when he visited Delhi. Sources, we were told, said that Modi had suggested an election because the private polls that he had commissioned indicated that Gujarati Hindus had been consolidated by hatred into a winning bloc of votes. The same sources indicated that the principled Vajpayee had rejected the idea out of hand, outraged that Modi should seek to traffic in misery.

Now we know better. The BJP meet in Goa has endorsed Modi’s electoral strategy, with Vajpayee leading the charge. The same Vajpayee who was so tormented and contrite and ashamed in the Shah Alam camp, now sees its inmates and the pogrom that was their tragedy as a footnote to the main story, the killing at Godhra. We don’t have to infer this; Vajpayee went to great lengths in his speech in Goa to explicitly make this point. Vajpayee, Advani, Krishnamurthi, bhadralok all, can’t wait to reap the bloody harvest that those ravening mobs had sown. By formally instructing Modi to dissolve the Gujarat assembly and call for elections, the BJP’s leaders haven’t just demonstrated solidarity, they’ve owned the violence and put it to political use — they’ve become complicit. Long after the indelible ink on voters’ hands rubs off, the BJP and its supporters will have blood on their hands.

There’s a photograph that has become symbolic of the terror in Gujarat: it features an armed lumpen in a tee-shirt, looking at the camera and exulting in the carnage. Every time we see the BJP’s leaders on television, wearing tilaks and namams, starchily respectable in their dhoti-kurtas and angavastrams, we should do what animators do: make their faces morph into that savage gleeful visage because ideologically, He is Them. In speech after speech they’ve sympathetically identified with his feelings: his bloodlust justified as the Hindu need for vengeance, his glee understood as the exultation of the worm turning, the whole image proudly emblematic of the once prone Hindu, now heraldically rampant.

It’s no longer possible (if it ever was) to support the one without endorsing the other. Nor is it honest to feel repelled by Modi and his works but to exclude the party’s central leadership from the scope of that revulsion. Vajpayee isn’t better than Modi; he’s just more versatile. While Modi has been typecast as the grinning villain Vajpayee has had more opportunities: he has played the stricken poet, the pause-plagued orator, even the shamed statesman. Where Modi is a stock character, Vajpayee is a whole repertory company.

In the last couple of months, three important elements of the sangh parivar’s plan to remake the nation in its own image have made the headlines: one, the attempt to change the status quo at the site of the razed Babri Masjid through force, intimidation and a few friends in high places; two, the furtive and anonymous National Council for Educational Research and Training campaign to talibanize history teaching in our schools, and three, the genocidal ethnic cleansing that we’ve watched first-hand on television. Whether Indians like or dislike the sangh parivar’s agenda for India, they can’t complain any more that they don’t know what the parivar’s map looks like. Swapan Dasgupta, a notable fellow-traveller, conceded in a recent essay that after Gujarat it didn’t look as if the BJP was about to become an Indian version of the German Christian Democratic Union: a mildly Hindu-centric conservative party. He suggested that the party of Hindu prejudice was becoming the party of Hindu fanaticism.

This brings me to the second lesson I’ve learnt from reading the newspapers. When Singhal, Kishore & Paramhans Ltd. was boiling the pot in Ayodhya, I learnt to recognize a new class of newspaper and magazine writer: the Faux Liberal and a new kind of political position, the Split. Briefly, the essays written by this class of person began with a disclaimer. He (or She) did not subscribe to the ideas of the sangh parivar, indeed he actively loathed them. The disclaimer was followed by a critique of over-zealous and inconsistent secularists and then, with an abruptness that was disconcerting, there followed a recommendation that the chronic violence be resolved by building a temple on the disputed site and paying off the mosque-wallahs in some unspecified way. So like those boneless child-gymnasts who contrive to sit on their crotches with their feet pointing in opposite directions, the Faux Liberal manages to oppose Hindutva and concede its definitive demand in the same essay.

The difficulty for the Faux Liberal is that gymnasts start practising the split as children whereas he, typically, arrives at ambivalence a little later in life. This ambivalence, whether it springs from intellectual uncertainty or just an exhausted desire for peace, seems acceptable because the Faux Liberal believes a little give-and-take will help tame the parivar, domesticate it for a career in republican democracy. But what if the parivar is inherently feral? What if Modi and Singhal are modelled on Slobodan Milosevic and not Helmut Kohl? What price appeasement then? Sometimes, doing the split in middle age can tear you up the middle.

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An affair most internal

Did you know that three out of our last four prime ministers — Atal Bihari Vajpayee, IK Gujral and PV Narasimha Rao — have been external affairs ministers at some point in their careers? By that logic, Jaswant Singh has a clear advantage in the race to replace Vajpayee, however much the sangh parivar might push for the likes of LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Just last week, the president of Korea told Singh that the next time they met, he hoped to be shaking hands with the prime minister of India. The Korean leader may be forgiven for thinking this was some sort of democratic convention in India, since the two foreign ministers he had met earlier — Gujral and Narasimha Rao — both went on to become PM. But he isn’t the first to voice such views. During a recent visit to India, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, was addressing a joint press conference when a foreign correspondent mistakenly referred to Singh as Mr Prime Minister. At this Powell laughed and congratulated his Indian counterpart on his promotion. The same event was repeated again during Powell’s January visit to the subcontinent — but this time it was Singh who corrected the journalist. No doubt the next best thing to actually becoming PM is for people to think you are. Now if only the BJP makes it to power in the next general elections.

No luck for the nth time

Anu Malik, Bollywood’s most “inspired” music director, is feeling low these days. Despite high-voltage releases this year like Asoka, Yaadein, Aks, to name only a few, and even a nomination for Mujjhe Kuch Kehna Hai, Malik lost the Filmfare award to AR Rehman’s Lagaan. And so he has decided to change the spelling of his name to “Annu”, hoping it will bring him better luck. But that ploy doesn’t always work. Take Kareena Kapoor, who became Kareina. That didn’t make Asoka any less of a damp squib at the box office. In fact, Asoka had begun life as Ashoka, before Shah Rukh Khan consulted the numerologists, who advised him to drop the “h”. Even Akshay Kumar was “Akshaie”, or some such unpronounceable thing, for a while. How about some fine tunes instead Anu/Annu, or have the Latino beats fallen flat?

Cooking up faith

A prominent private sector domestic airlines has something for everyone. Besides separate food for veggies and non-veggies, the airliner recently started serving separate food for Muslims and Hindus, depending on whether the meat is halal or jhatka. While many international airliners serve kosher meat, the move has disappointed many passengers who were left wondering about the need to communalize food.

Sermon on the sexes

Madhu Dandavate (remember him?) is quite upset with Murli Manohar Joshi. Way back on November 23, 2000, Dandavate had written to the Central HRD minister, requesting him to include a short story, “Balpothi”, written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1921, in school curricula. Joshi did not even bother to reply to the veteran politician’s letter.

Actually, “Balpothi” was narrated by First Lady Usha Narayanan while delivering a speech on international women’s day. In it, Gandhi’s contention is that household work should be shared by both sexes. The father of the nation was of the opinion that men and women should both be trained in cooking, washing, dusting and all the never-ending household chores, because the house belonged to both of them. Both Narayanan and the president’s wife felt that it was one of the finest stories about gender equality. Moreover, it was 100 per cent swadeshi. Now that should be enough for Joshi. But is he listening?

Histories at war

However much Khaleda Zia might be wary of big brother India, her Bangladesh Nationalist Party government has something in common with the BJP-led government — a penchant for re-writing history. A diary published recently by the Bangladesh government gives all credit for the liberation of the country from Pakistan to Zia-ur Rehman, Khaleda’s late husband. “As the people of Bangladesh faced the gun of the occupation army in 1971 a young Bengali army officer in the Pakistani army, Zia-ur Rehman, announced the declaration of independence from a radio station at Kallurghat in Chittagong. In one of the defining moments of history, Major Zia galvanized the whole nation and gave it the fortitude and direction to go ahead.” Notice how the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman has been blacked out completely.

Last week, the Bangladesh government promulgated a new law restricting government offices from putting up photographs of Sheikh Mujib. The Bangabandhu Setu over the Yamuna river in Sirajganj has also been renamed the “Yamuna multipurpose bridge”. Will someone please stand up and tell Khaleda, “That way lies trouble”?

Footloose and fancy free

However much governments, past and present, left, right or any shade in between, try to tomtom the virtues of austerity, and whatever pious announcements finance ministers may make come budget-time, politicians, especially politicians in power, are not to be deprived of their foreign junkets.

In fact, last week it seemed as if the entire cabinet had decided to take off to foreign shores. While the prime minister was sight-seeing in the Angkor Vat earlier this week, Pramod Mahajan was doing the rounds of the Big Apple. With the mercury steadily rising, the dashing young minister of state, Rajiv Pratap Rudi, was off to Switzerland, while Anant Kumar and Vijay Kumar Malhotra were leading a delegation to Europe. If only others were as lucky!

Footnote / The enemy by my side

It was supposed to be a routine exercise, but the Congress party meet in Andhra Pradesh, soon turned into a free-for-all, much to the discomfiture of the AICC gensec, Ambika Soni. About 70 state leaders had gathered in a show of strength — the United Face of the Congress, if you like — to devise a strategy to take on Chandrababu Naidu. The problem started when someone suggested that the party should hold demonstrations and rallies to protest against Naidu’s “anti-people policies”. Veteran Congressman P. Shiv Shankar quickly shot down the idea. “But we should first know what out policies are. We seem in more of a hurry to back economic reforms than Naidu. We are for downsizing government, for power sector reforms, opening up the farm sector, for selling PSUs. So what do we crib about?” Valid question, but one Soni had no answer to. Nonplussed, she turned to Ghulam Nabi Azad who, to her horror, seemed to agree with Shiv Sankar. Those in the know say this is Azad’s way of getting back at Soni for his punishment posting as the J&K unit Congress chief.



Talk more, work less

Sir — Why is the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, Laloo Prasad Yadav, trying his hand at anchoring a talk show? Doesn’t he provide enough entertainment as a politician (“Laloo ban gaya anchor man”, April 10)? The former chief minister has perhaps realized that his popularity is falling fast. Or there must be a serious dearth of things to engage his attention. However, if he and his wife, Rabri Devi, cared to turn their attention to the state, especially after the Chhapra jail crisis, they would find that good governance, rather than Yadav’s rustic charms, alone can help them hold on to their gaddi.

Yours faithfully,
Ketan Patel, Pune

Big bully

Sir — The delayed American reaction to Israel’s butchering of the Palestinian people is hardly surprising (“Enough is enough, Bush tells Israel”, April 5). The United States of America and Israel are close enough for one to catch a cold if the other sneezes. If the US is serious about Israel, it should stop supplying arms to it. This however can be achieved only if Israel ceases to play the US’s watchdog in west Asia. And this is unlikely to happen.

The US and the international community should have applied to Israel the same rules they had applied to Saddam Hussein. Israel should have been made to realize that being friends with the US did not mean that it could continue its onslaught on the Palestinians and get away with it. The US too has to answer. Does not the supply of US arms to Israel make the Americans complicit in the bloodshed in west Asia? As things stand now, it is obvious that the world needs to counter-balance US unilateralism. Earlier it was the Soviet Union which provided it. Now this role should be played by Asia, especially since the European Union has failed in this respect.

Yours faithfully,
Richard Saviel, Brighton, Australia

Sir — The Israeli aggression against the Palestinian Authority not only amounts to war crime but is ridiculous in its stated intention of compelling the Palestinian Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat, to curb terrorism. How is Arafat supposed to achieve this feat? Not only has he no resources at his disposal, he is under house arrest and surveillance. Arafat is being made the scapegoat in Sharon’s genocidal campaign. It is ironic that the Jews who know what genocide means should try to impose the same fate on others six decades later.

Yours faithfully,
B. Purkayastha, Shillong

Sir — The west Asia crisis is a war waged by the West against the Arabs. The British and American requests to Israel to pull out of Palestinian territories are pretentious and mean nothing. While the region burns, Tony Blair has decided to issue his sternest warning to the “detestable, brutal regime” of Saddam Hussein which the neocolonialist powers are planning to topple. It is not surprising that instead of going straight to Palestine, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, is visiting Agadir, Casablanca and Egypt.

Yours faithfully,
M.K.A. Siddiqui, Calcutta

Foul smell

Sir — A trend is increasingly becoming common among adolescents and even children of the lower income groups and the middle classes — inhaling adhesives that contain a high percentage of addictive chemicals. Adhesives have become low-cost intoxicants. Street children particularly are a highly vulnerable group. In Philippines this has already become a serious problem. Inhaling the dangerous chemicals in adhesives affects the liver, kidney and causes serious physical complications. The government of India should undertake a serious policy with regard to such addictives.

Yours faithfully,
Iftakhar Latif, Guwahati

Sir — A recent exhibition in Mumbai showed the creative talents of street children. It was fascinating to see the use of colour and imagination in the images of Ganesh that were put on display. Ever since Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay, street children of this city have received a lot of media attention. But what about the hapless thousands in the other metropolises?

Yours faithfully,
J. Samanta, Calcutta

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