Editorial/ The enemy within
Been there, seen it
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the Editor

The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is at his worst when he appears to be righteous and pious. He displayed this aspect of his personality when he decided to pander to nationalist sentiments and essay a sermon to those foreigners who had showed their concern about events in Gujarat and had criticized the Union government’s indifference to the violence. Mr Vajpayee chose to speak for India and announced to the world that India did not need to learn about secularism from anybody. It obviously did not occur to Mr Vajpayee that by his refusal to dismiss Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, and by his openly partisan speech to the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party, he had lost his right to speak for India. Mr Vajpayee, whether he likes it or not, is now perceived as the prime minister of the BJP and not of India. Mr Vajpayee’s response to criticism only shows the depths of his own insensitivity. People across the world are concerned because they see in the continuing violence in Gujarat signs of inhumanity. They are appalled by the indifference of Mr Vajpayee and his party. Mr Vajpayee should be ashamed; instead he decided to be gung ho about India’s secular credentials.

No one, in their criticism of the pogroms in Gujarat, has questioned India’s secular foundations. They have expressed justified concern about the cracks that are appearing in those foundations. They have also, although not explicitly, identified the sangh parivar as the agency that is attacking the foundations and causing cracks to appear. Mr Vajpayee’s error flows from his fundamental assumption that he can speak for India. He knows that he and the ideological formation to which he belongs have no secular foundations whatsoever. The sangh parivar is self-confessedly an organization that seeks to represent the Hindu majority. Unfortunately, large sections of the Hindu majority do not see the sangh parivar as their representative. This is evident in the electoral fortunes of the BJP and the absence of the various wings of the sangh parivar in large parts of India. Indians, irrespective of their religion, have lived by a spirit of tolerance except when movements of religious fundamentalism — Hindu, Muslim and Sikh — have vitiated the atmosphere.

For India, the sectarian violence in Gujarat is a deviation. To this extent Mr Vajpayee is right. But the moot question is why this deviation has occurred and what the governments, both state and Central, have done to suppress the deviation. The evidence suggests that they have done precious little. At the state level there may have been some encouragement as well. By refusing to sack Mr Modi, Mr Vajpayee has become complicit in this. The fact that he recognizes the deviation but stops short of eradicating it only shows the moral vacuum that Mr Vajpayee inhabits. The tacit endorsement of the violence emanating from the highest political echelons of India is a signal that forces are at work to destroy India’s secular foundations. Foreign opinion is only expressing concern at this turn of events. An attitude different from smugness would befit a prime minister of India.


The sangh parivar has an explanation for the Gujarat massacre which, given the sangh’s upper caste nature, is curiously appropriate. According to Modi, Vajpayee and the theoreticians of the Hindu right, the pogrom had a double origin. The first, of course, was the slaughter at Godhra. But since this isn’t a sufficient explanation for the scale and duration of the killings, the spokesmen of Hindu rage have twinned Godhra with a compounding grievance: the failure of the English-speaking liberal establishment, both in the media and in Parliament, to condemn that atrocity. Thus, the bestial violence against Muslims in Gujarat, is revealed to be twice-born. So the reason Muslims got killed in such numbers was that a) they started it, and b) tens of thousands of angry Gujarati Hindus having read the Hindu, watched Star News and listened to Somnath Chatterjee, realized there was no justice in the world and decided to kill, burn and rape ten times more Muslims than they would otherwise have done. They did this only partly to punish Muslims; mainly, it appears, they killed to revenge themselves upon an inconsistent and hypocritical ruling class. The prime minister himself has publicly declared that had the Godhra atrocity been quickly and sufficiently condemned, the violence could have been contained.

In cricketing terms this is the equivalent of arguing that had the journalists in the press box and the umpires denounced, say, Michael Slater for swearing at Rahul Dravid, the crowd would have contented itself with throwing Bisleri empties and orange peel at the deep fielders. Since they didn’t, since the pseudo-impartial umpires and the chronically biased white newspaper establishment contented itself with a rebuke, the simmering crowd was provoked into making a bonfire of the cheap seats and cremating the entire Australian team including the coach and physio plus any visible Australian fans, Australian newspapermen, and miscellaneous white people unlucky enough to be in or around the Wankhede Stadium that afternoon.

To complete the parallel, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India would need to issue a statement regretting the Wankhede violence but qualifying that regret by observing that arson and murder, unfortunate though they were, had to be understood in the mitigating context of colonialism and white racism and the failure of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age to write severe enough denunciations of Australian aggro in their editorial pages.

The sangh parivar’s dvija argument is of exactly this order. It is both insane and vile, but if you think of the hysteria that drives cricket spectatorship in the subcontinent, you begin to understand how the “logic” of the argument resonates in polarized, frenziedly partisan places. The middle-class Maruti-borne looters of Ahmedabad who treated the rape of their city as a drive-in orgy, are exactly the same kind of people who go to one-day matches at Motera and stone the deep fieldsmen whenever their thirst for vicarious victory isn’t instantly gratified or their need to be on camera isn’t met.

For the last few weeks, I’ve watched fascinated as metropolitan, middle-class fellow-travellers try to come to terms with the horror in Gujarat. These are people who saw the Bharatiya Janata Party as the respectable, genteel face of Hindu self-esteem. One columnist told us that while she was in favour of a middle class gingered up with some home-brewed patriotism, she hadn’t, er, bargained for this. Or words to that effect. But the most interesting case of comfortable Hindu prejudice being forced to confront the violent logic of its position, is the story of the magazine best described as the house magazine of the Hindu right and its editorial position over the last few issues. This magazine, over the period of the BJP’s ascendancy, has come a long way from the magazine that demonstrated over a long article that most of Advani’s claims about temple destruction in Kashmir were fabrications. It has been for some years solidly supportive of the BJP’s agenda for India.

Embarrassed by the unseemly violence in Gujarat, the magazine condemned Modi’s government for its administrative “ineptness”. After some hemming and hawing, it brought itself to say of Modi, “let him go”. It even published an issue with Modi on the cover. However, while gentility demanded some condemnation, the ideological instincts of the magazine were not to be denied. For example, only on reading the issue with Modi on the cover did it become apparent that the hatred in question was more the loathing liberals felt for Modi than the communal poison that he represented. In another editorial, the magazine deplored the way in which the liberal establishment had reduced the violence in Gujarat to the doings of Modi and his government, thereby stripping the tragedy of its social history.

This is particularly rich, coming from a point of view that has insisted, post-September 11, that historical explanations for terrorist violence are impermissible, that to seek historical reasons for the emergence of suicide bombers is equal to justifying their violence. So jihadi terror springs from simple state department ideas like timeless evil and fanatical revelation, but genocidal violence must be understood with the historical subtlety of a Ranajit Guha or a Richard Cobb. Why this sudden investment in history? My guess would be that this social history of Gujarat (whenever it is written) will strenuously try to show us how Gujarati Hindus have, over time, felt themselves beleaguered by an assertive, foreign-funded, madrasah-educated, enigmatically prosperous Muslim minority. Conclusion: violence regrettable, but causes undeniable.

The world has been here before. India is not unique and we can learn from the experience of others. Men like Togadia aren’t complex creatures: they’re common-or-garden fascists, complete with salutes and storm troopers. Le Pen has just entered the final round of voting for the presidency of France. Already commentators in the European papers are counselling politicians to attend to the grievances off which the Far Right feeds. The implication is that because mainstream politicians have dismissed the insecurities of people who dislike Arabs and loathe Jews, they have turned to a monster like Le Pen.

The truth is the opposite: it is because every French politician from Chirac to Jospin has tried discreetly to steal Le Pen’s clothes in the matters of migration and minorities, that these prejudices have become respectable within the mainstream. In Godhra and the rest of Gujarat, the people who murdered and the people who sponsored the killings don’t need understanding: they need some relentless republican justice.

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Be Indian, speak Hindi

Oscar Fernandes is a worried man these days, ever since he took charge of the Congress in Bihar and Jharkhand. His new posting brings back bitter memories of that time in 1989 when Oscar was party general-secretary in charge of Bihar, while Tariq Anwar was the state unit chief and Bhagwat Jha Azad, the chief minister. A clash broke out between the supporters of Anwar and Azad during Oscar’s tenure in Patna. When Oscar tried to intervene, the agitated mob demanded to know who he was. “Oscar Fernandes,” answered an AICC functionary, helpfully. But the incensed mob had no patience: “Hindi mein bolo, Hindi mein bolo,” they clamoured. Although once bitten, the Goa politician can’t afford the luxury of being twice shy. Of course, Oscar has since come a long way politically and must have also brushed up on his Hindi, so there shouldn’t be a repeat of the hilarious incident. But the poor man can’t change his name. One can only hope that Bihari Congressmen have increased their knowledge of non-cow belt names.

Bash to end all bashes

Chandra Shekhar’s 75th birthday bash seems to have been quite an elaborate affair, especially for an out of power politician. So what if the president was not present, the former prime minister had AB Vajpayee as chief guest and Yashwant Sinha as chairman of the birthday celebrations committee. Besides N Chandraswami and Subramanian Swami, in attendance were also India’s past prime ministers, PV Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, HD Deve Gowda. But the one person conspicuous by his absence was VP Singh. Chandra Shekhar, it seems, is yet to forgive the architect of Mandal for spiking his chances of becoming PM again — Singh had not even been invited.

The sangh parivar was of course miffed at the large turnout of BJP leaders, but the birthday boy was anything but grateful. The no-longer-young turk told his guests that he thought the PM would do well to extricate himself from the clutches of the parivar. He also told the audience — which included LK Advani — that he wouldn’t ask Vajpayee to resign because his successors would be much worse. That may be true, but it wasn’t very polite.

Out of favour

LK Advani has been having quite a rough time lately. As if Chandra Shekhar’s entirely gratuitous put-down wasn’t enough, the Union home minister was given another earful at Arjun Singh’s residence where he had gone to listen to bhajans on Ram Navami. To make matters worse, it was Swami Avdeshanand Giri Maharaj of the Junagadh peeth, a sadhu and one would have thought a card-holding member of the saffron brigade, who severely reprimanded Advani. Swami Avdeshanand did not mince words — he reminded Advani how the lord Vishnu took on human form to save the life of an individual. The inference was clear — a true Ram bhakt would never do anything to harm another, no matter what religion, colour or caste he might belong to. Advani left after listening to one bhajan — obviously the barb had gone home.

Death, the eveller

The political class in India is not particularly known for its sensitivity. Which is perhaps why the Madhavrao Scindia Foundation’s rare gesture of consideration for the family of Rupinder Singh, the late maharajah’s aide who died along with him, stands out as an instance of exemplary public behaviour. The occasion was the first Madhavrao Scindia memorial lecture delivered by Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga. Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other dignitaries were present but Jyotiraditya Scindia took time out to chat with Rupinder’s father and younger brother, who had been invited. This is not a one-off gesture — the Scindias have been in regular touch with their former employee’s family ever since the tragedy. That’s what nobility is all about, after all.

When in trouble, reshuffle

Yet another cabinet reshuffle is on the way. The prime minister has promised one as soon as the parliamentary session gets over. Or at least he has said as much to keep at bay all those NDA partners who have been making inconvenient noises about Gujarat. His Master’s Voice George Fernandes has been on the phone, trying to persuade a skittish Mamata Banerjee to hold on because she would surely find herself in the cabinet soon what with senior leaders like Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj being drafted into party organizational work. Now Didi would have to be worse than the proverbial babe in the woods to believe that.

It’s a virtual reality

Mallika Sarabhai in hiding — that’s the hot news doing the rounds in cyberspace. Frantic emails are being forwarded about how the famous dancer has been forced to go underground by Hindu fundamentalists who threatened to kill her and burn down Darpana, the dance and cultural academy her mother, Mrinalini, started. Apparently, the saffron desperadoes are incensed at the PIL Sarabhai presented to the Supreme Court which asks for a special investigation team to look into the communal violence in Gujarat. Well, did you expect any better from the thugs in Gujarat?

Acting out the age difference

Ask any actress or contestant in a beauty pageant and she will say that she wants to “do something” for children. But Karisma Kapoor has always been a tad different. The young actress actually wants to open a home for senior citizens. Now isn’t that hatke?

Footnote/ Cover boy for progress

President KR Narayanan might be fighting an increasingly desperate battle for a second term at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but his stock in international circles is on the up and up. The prestigious National Geographic magazine has apparently decided to feature him on the cover of its December issue, which will be on the Dalits and backward classes in India — the huge strides they have made to shrug off centuries of persecution, their problems, and so on. It seems the editors thought the Indian president was the perfect model for social change in the country. They were moved by the story of how he rose from his extremely modest origins, how he completed his education with donations from local Harijan welfare societies and how he went on to become the First Citizen of India. That’s quite an achievement since the only other Indian to ever feature on the National Geographic’s cover was model Meghna Reddy. Narayanan’s may not be a prettier face, but at least it is a more substantive picture of the country that he will be projecting.    


Saying sorry was never easy

Sir — Strained relations between two nations are difficult to mend because there is always the risk that one of them might act irresponsibly. The visit of the Japanese premier, Junichiro Koizumi, to the Yasukuni shrine, built in honour of Japanese war criminals and the dead, was one such irresponsible act (“China in Japan shrine hitback”, April 24). The resultant ire of China and South Korea is justified given the atrocities they suffered during World War II. Shouldn’t Japan have learnt a lesson from the Bosnians on how to atone for their war crimes by supporting an international criminal court?
Yours faithfully,
Diya Roy, Calcutta

General uncertainty

Sir — If, as Pervez Musharraf says, the decision to hold a referendum on April 30 to find out if the people of Pakistan want him to continue as president for five more years is not his own, then whoever has advised him to do so was only misleading him (“Jamaat calls Musharaff rule illegal”, April 24). The referendum smacks of a desperate bid to cling to power. Musharraf had seemed like Pakistan’s man of destiny because of his moves to fashion the country as a modern Islamic state and his efforts to curb corruption.

But he has thrown away the chance to earn a place in history as Pakistan’s Charles de Gaulle, the legendary French general who came back from retirement to put the country back on the path of progress. He saw the granting of freedom to Algeria as the only sensible solution and ordered troops into the French colony to quell a rebellion by the French settlers there who opposed the move. Later, interpreting a negative vote in a referendum as lack of confidence in him, he bowed out of power. Musharraf should have made the religious reforms, rather than his continuing as president, the subject of the referendum and made it clear that in case of a negative vote, he would resign.

Of course, free and fair voting now could be a rehearsal for the general elections to be held in October. But for this, Musharraf should put the interests of his country above his own. He should realize that his power comes from the barrel of a gun.

Yours faithfully,
N. Narasimhan, Bangalore

Sir — The presidential referendum in Pakistan seems to be nothing but a farce. In order to consolidate his position, Pervez Musharraf has become mufti, maulana and commander, all rolled into one. His statement that “the referendum is not an election for the presidential office but an endorsement” makes the referendum seem even more futile. Pakistanis must realize that Musharraf is following in the footsteps of Ayub Khan and Zia ul-Haq — both military dictators. In the absence of an independent judiciary, the legal validity of the referendum is suspect.

Yours faithfully
Lalgoulian Vaiphei, Shillong

Danger in the air

Sir — The Supreme Court’s directive to transporters all over India to use compressed natural gas instead of diesel is a landmark judgment (“Apex court extends CNG net”, April 6). The World Health Organization estimates that about 700,000 deaths can be prevented every year in developing countries if three major pollutants — carbon monoxide, suspended particles and lead — are controlled.

The Supreme Court should also see to it that the guidelines to control air pollution are enforced. It should penalize inefficient state environment ministries in order to protect citizens from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Yours faithfully,
M.L. Sarkar, Budge Budge

Sir — The public transport system in Delhi is in a mess because of the current CNG crisis (“Capital chaos spirals, Centre steps in”, April 9). Pollution is not the only problem Delhiites have to bear with. Since buses are not plying regularly, autorickshaw drivers feel free to overcharge harassed commuters who already have to contend with the summer sun. The administration should shrug off its apathy, and look into these problems.

Yours faithfully,
Ajay Sharma, New Delhi

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