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K.G. Kannabiran

Mixed media by VIJAY BAGODI

In the fall of 1944, Himmler realised that the game was up. The war was coming to a close and the extermination facilities at Auschwitz had to be dismantled. He said to Eichmann, "If up to now you have been busy liquidating Jews, you will from now on, since I order it, take good care of Jews, and act as their nursemaid." That is precisely what is happening in Gujarat now.

Vajpayee seems to have given Modi similar instructions. They sent star policeman K.P.S. Gill in lieu of Article 355. A peace initiative is taking shape and like all such initiatives, it will be as loosely structured as possible, promising no redressal, no justice, but an abundance of pity and mercy for the plight of the victims of this great experiment. This is not my description of these macabre incidents of the last few months — February, March, April and May. Gujarat, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) announced, will be the laboratory of the Hindu Rashtra. From the time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political wing of the RSS, captured power in Gujarat through the electoral process, they have been true to their declaration. Soon after assuming power, the BJP state government removed the ban disallowing public servants from being members of the RSS. The recent Gujarat violence has graphically shown how the bureaucracy, at various levels, has turned into a Hindutva brigade.


The nature and extent of the carnage also makes it clear that the state had been preparing the people for the Hindutva experiment for a long time. In fact, the roots of Hindutva go far deeper still — to the systematic destruction of institutions under Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule, followed by a succession of myopic leaders who had neither principles nor ideology but were driven solely by the greed for personal power. It is this climate of cynicism and despair, leading to one hung parliament after another, which fostered the growth of the BJP.

The BJP, in its previous incarnation as the Jana Sangh, had little presence in the parliamentary political process. It was only after the Emergency (1975), when it joined the Jayaprakash Narayan (JP)-led movement and merged into the Janata Party, that the erstwhile Jana Sangh managed to gain a sizeable presence in Parliament by riding the anti-Emergency wave that swept the country. The motley Janata Party headed by Morarji Desai gave an opportunity to the Hindutva forces to enter the power structure and that was the beginning of the manoeuvres of fascism within the constitutional framework, leaving it to a palsied Left to uphold the Constitution. The Janata experiment ended in a fiasco, Indira Gandhi returned to power, but the Jana Sangh did not wither away — it renamed itself as the BJP and despite the setback of 1984, when it was reduced to just two seats in the Lok Sabha, it continued to grow in insidious ways. Just as it used the Janata wave in 1977 to become a national player, it piggybacked on the V.P. Singh-led anti-Bofors campaign of the late 1980s to once again form the central government (albeit supporting it from the outside) in late 1989. Having reached thus far, the Hindutva forces then began their systematic assault on the Constitution and democratic values in the form of the anti-reservation agitation and Advani’s infamous rath yatra, both in 1990.

In the course of my recent stay in Gujarat I came to know that Advani’s rath yatra was Narendra Modi’s brainchild. Their game plan was simple — given the complete failure of the welfare state and democratic politics, and with no countervailing challenge from the Left movement, capturing the support of the majority community would enable them to gain power at the Centre. Successive Prime Ministers, too short-sighted to see the looming threat, only facilitated this game plan, paving the way for a BJP-led government in India. Rarely have we seen such vulgar display of religiosity by public functionaries as we witness now. In the context of these practices, secular values seem to have lost their relevance. Every caste division and division on religious lines have become grist to the mill of electoral politics. As commitment to social transformation diminished, the electoral process distanced itself from the people and caste and communal factors remained the sole strategies in adversarial politics, beginning the spiral of degeneration. The resounding success of the Dalit movement did not help strengthen the democratic and secular content of politics.

Earlier, social reforms were used to bring about homogeneity among the Hindus by attempting to abolish caste divisions. Those were attempts to reform Hindu society, to rid it of its long-standing aberrations, which treated a sizeable majority within its fold as non-persons. Such noble aspirations are outdated in present-day politics.

In the course of his epic tour of the riot and violence-torn Noakhali, when Gandhiji was informed of the retaliation in Bihar he said, "For a thousand Hindus to fall upon a handful of Muslims — men, women and children — living in their midst is no retaliation, but just brutality. It is the privilege of arms to protect the weak and the helpless. The best succour that Bihar could have given to the Hindus of East Bengal would have been to guarantee with their own lives the absolute safety of the Muslim population living in their midst"

But communal politics did not emerge suddenly. It has been with us for a long time. It was given an ideological content after the founding of the RSS. Its contours were clearly defined. It has been growing steadily since the Partition. This was made clear to us in course of many conversations in Gujarat. Two persons from the Visva Samvad Kendra, the RSS media cell, met us at the Karnavati Club in Ahmedabad. They found fault with the electronic media’s presentation of the riots. They said the media talks to just one person in a district and draws inferences about the violence in the entire area. They then gave us a copy of the magazine they published, which highlighted Godhra and not the subsequent violence, though the issue was printed much later. They said the root of this violence has to be traced to 1947 — a stand that successfully blocked further discussions on the current violence. We are taken back in time to Nathuram Godse and his reasons for shooting down Mahatma Gandhi. In his statement to the court, Godse, without any remorse, enumerated these reasons. There was nothing noble or profound about them. The logic of his reasoning was limited to the communal ideology (if you can give communal politics that name) he was wedded to. Such a limited frame of thought cannot understand Gandhiji and his vision of society. In the course of his epic tour of the riot and violence-torn Noakhali, when Gandhiji was informed of the retaliation in Bihar he said, "For a thousand Hindus to fall upon a handful of Muslims — men, women and children — living in their midst is no retaliation, but just brutality. It is the privilege of arms to protect the weak and the helpless. The best succour that Bihar could have given to the Hindus of East Bengal would have been to guarantee with their own lives the absolute safety of the Muslim population living in their midst." Post- independence India has not known a single leader of adequate moral stature to effectively intervene in periods of acute political violence. The massacre of Sikhs in 1984 on the streets, roads and bylanes of Delhi still awaits redressal and justice. We have not even honed our institutions to respond to crisis situations with speed and justice, which alone will discipline people and encourage them to respect the law and authority. Judges, administrators, lawyers, the entire quill-wielding class, doctors and others who run our state and civil society have their own agenda and philosophy and these inform their decisions and attitudes, whether in normal times or in times of crisis. The courts, which did not rise to defend personal liberty during the Emergency, wrote copiously about our liberties after we were released from our incarceration!


There have been excellent analyses and interpretations on the recurring communal riots that have wracked the country. They help post facto understanding. The point is, however, and has always been, not merely to interpret but to change things — to change the mindset that fosters communal violence and to prevent communal riots from taking place. The politics of secularism have fallen far short of this. After V.P. Singh’s fall, there have been no active, committed defenders of the Constitution. The BJP, which had nothing to do with the framing of the Constitution, has sought to undermine it from within in the manner of Hitler. Having found the Constitution inadequate for their aims of Hindutva, the BJP is now seeking a ‘review’. The country has been prepared for a communalism that is qualitatively different from earlier communal skirmishes that we have witnessed. This trend has been evident since Advani’s 1990 rath yatra, which commenced, significantly, from the Somnath temple in Gujarat. From that time, Hindutva has been on the national political agenda. The anti-Reservation stir following the Mandal Commission’s recommendations and Ambedkar-bashing were a prelude to that. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a frontal attack on secular values. The Hindu religion, declared the RSS-BJP combine, is more equal than other religions. Hindutva’s first experiment registered its success. They never worried about their electoral strength in working out their political agenda. They kept their political agenda alive by keeping the temple issue alive. The September 11 attacks in New York and Washington also helped this trend to some extent. The abracadabra of war against terrorism found support from the BJP government. They pushed their agenda of Hindutva while they had POTA passed to contain both Islamic terrorism and secular and democratic dissent within. The unwritten guiding premise of governance today is majoritarian supremacy in the form of Hindu theocracy.

Investigations into the carnage in Gujarat reveal that even as the arguments on whether and where to allow shilanyas for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya were being heard in the Supreme Court, preparations were underway to test the strength of the Hindutva forces and their ability to impose their will on the nation. Although it was the minorities who were mercilessly attacked in Gujarat, the Hindutva forces were in fact going for the jugular of the Hindu liberal and secular society all over the country.

Gandhiji comes from Gujarat. What happened in Gujarat on February 28, 2002, is not just a negation of what he stood and died for, but was equally a negation of all the values we fought for in the course of our long struggle for independence.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3

K.G. Kannabiran is an eminent human rights lawyer. President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, he was part of the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal investigating
the recent sectarian violence in Gujarat. He lives in Hyderabad