VS. Naipaul, the man also known as Lord Vidiamort, is an interestingly connected person. Close to 12 years ago, Lord Vid was in India, being feted and celebrated by odd sections of our intellectual and political elite for winning the Nobel prize. His visit was supported in part by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which was holding a literary festival with the man as the guest of honour, and partly by the still newish news magazine, Tehelka. Tarun Tejpal had, by then, installed himself as Lord Vid’s ‘Fan-in-Chief’ but there were also other admirers, among them Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh, both of whom having cited Naipaul as a great inspiration. So, Sir Vidyashatru came and was welcomed as a great hero of letters. There were gala occasions: he had tea with the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee; there were grand dinners in five-star hotels; he was chief guest at the writers’ jamboree in Neemrana; he spake grandly at the Delhi leg of the festival. Except for a couple of moments when the Vicomte de Vide embarrassed himself, the visit was a triumph, or so it was proclaimed by Tarun Tejpal and the VSN fan club.
A couple of days after Naipaul departed, someone set fire to the train carriage S-6 in Godhra, killing 57 people. Within hours of this, Gujarat blew up like a godown of explosives mined with detonators. Naipaul’s lofty reaction was something to the tune of ‘when the intellectuals abdicate responsibility, the mob will rule’. It is not clear as to which intellectuals and which mob Lord Vidiamort was referring. Did he mean the mob of locals at Godhra or was the mob the focused and murderous cadre of the Hindutva Family that had been unleashed upon Gujarati Muslims? Were the abdicating intellectuals the psuedo-secularists like his acolyte Tejpal and sundry others? Or were they the group led by the great poet Vajpayee and the iron statesman Advani, supported by their English-speaking spin-doctors, including two proud and erudite sons of Calcutta? By ‘mob’ did Naipaul mean the men doing the actual killing and raping? Or did he mean the mob of ruling politicians like Narendra Modi? Only Naipaul can explain what he meant, just as only he can explain why, two days before he left India that February, he attended a function in his honour organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to receive a statue of Saraswati.
Currently we are hypnotized by two cases of alleged sexual assault, where the men accused were in the position of power and guardianship over the women complainants. Simultaneously, we are caught up in the gross mismatch between two ‘presidential’ candidates, one of whom is certain to rule the country next year, or so we are repeatedly told. In this climate of flickering topicality, is it possible to think of a politician in power, especially someone like a chief minister of a state, as a ‘guardian’ or ‘a person in a position of power’ over the women in his or her state? If we rightly find it reprehensible that the first thing one chief minister sees in a gang-rape case is a conspiracy to malign her government, then what are we to make of another chief minister who sits on his hands over weeks as mass rapes continue a few kilometres from his office?
‘It’s not true. There have been no rapes.’ Snaps Anandiben Patel, the minister of women and children’s welfare. I still remember the venom in her voice as she answers my question for a radio programme. Then she corrects herself: there may have been some rapes, but they were committed by the men in the camps themselves where the minority community had taken shelter. According to Patel, any rapes that happened in Gujarat in 2002 were committed by minority community men against ‘their own’ women. As she and all the other Bharatiya Janata Party people kept repeating, all reports to the contrary were part of a media conspiracy, a concoction to malign Narendra Modi’s noble government, including the fiction that nearly 2,000 Muslims had been killed. And, no, the figure of those rendered homeless was nowhere near a hundred thousand, a few thousand at most, as happens in any ‘natural’ riot. No matter the detailed documentation, no matter the real time TV footage and interviews of victims, swat aside the journalists and social workers who went in during and right after the bloodbath, shove under the carpet the bureaucrats and other officials who resigned their posts, all of this was a Congress-orchestrated conspiracy conducted right under the nose of the BJP governments in Gandhinagar and the Centre.
A few years later, a group of assassins is killed while on their way to get Modi. No, wait a minute, perhaps they were not all jihadis, perhaps the woman was innocent, caught up with the wrong people. Oh, maybe this wasn’t a gun fight after all, perhaps some people cold-bloodedly axed these people. Oh, by some people, we mean some over-zealous police officers, too enthusiastic in trying to impress Modi. No, of course, the chief minister did not know. No, nor did his close associate know, and there was no question of the close associate actually giving the order for the execution. As we know, the chief minister cares deeply for the women in his state whether they are resident or just happen to be driving through.
Yet later: the chief minister cares deeply for each and every individual woman in his state. He is like a father or brother to all of them, and if a concerned father asks him to use the police to keep tabs on his daughter, why, of course Narendrabhai will oblige, it’s only his dharma as a guardian of the state’s women. No, what do the tapes actually say? There is no proof the ‘saheb’ referred to in the conversations is noble Mr. Modi, there is no proof he sanctioned such close surveillance of the young woman, and how can you impute such sleazy motives to such a moral man? Anyway, forget the mere facts, forget the tapes, look at who is making the accusation — why it’s that cabal of psuedo-secular yellow hacks, including those Tehelka people again.
And, even as the stalking case starts getting hot for the Big Brother of Gujarati Women, the skies suddenly open to provide a cool downpour. As happens, a huge thunderstorm is triggered by a small event — in Goa, a man and a woman enter a lift. For the righteously worshipful, the lift becomes a stairway to heaven. How can a man accused of assaulting, nay raping, a young woman accuse somebody else of stalking another young woman?
No, of course there were no rapes in Gujarat in 2002. No, of course no one ordered the hit on Ishrat Jahan. No, of course there was no sleazy desire or perversity in the surveillance on the woman architect. No, of course, one can’t imagine that excited phone calls were made from Delhi to Goa, where no one said to nobody, ‘It’s an open goal, kick in the ball. Go after him with all guns blazing.’
Yakundendu tushar haar dhavalam. Imagine V.S. Naipaul’s hands clasping the statue of Saraswati. Imagine the gathered VHP people clapping. Ya shubhra vastravrutam. Imagine Narendra Modi at prayer, praying to Saraswati. Imagine him in a crisp white kurta, Rolex watch glinting, praying, deeply, with all his soul, while a few kilometres away the ‘mob’ pull pregnant women out of their slum rooms and cut open their stomachs. Ya veena vara danda mandita kara,Ya shweta padmasana.