Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Sep 26, 2002
Government - Politics
Another blow to body politic
OVER 30 innocent people were killed in the attack on Swaminarayan Temple in Gandhinagar on Tuesday, their only sin being that they went to the temple to commune with their maker, to thank him, complain to him, coax him, beseech him, or whatever. Many more were injured, and several of them are battling for their lives in hospital. The terrorists responsible for the dastardly act claim to belong to a hitherto unknown outfit called Tehrike-e-Kasak, which translates into `Organisation for Revenge'.
Millions, at least those with access to television, were glued to their TV sets, watching the heinous attack on the temple. Among these were the Gujarat Muslims, who are today cowering in their homes, huts or mansions, relief camps or pavement dwellings, wondering whether, when and how the counter-attack will come. This is no time for them to say that so many mosques were razed to the ground hardly a couple of months ago, after Godhra. They are surely wondering if the communal riots will break out once again.
After all, in the last couple of weeks, their Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has gone around spreading such inflammatory messages as "hum paanch, hamare pachchees" (we five, our 25), and that he will not allow refugee camps to continue in order to facilitate Muslims to continue to procreate.
The Congress(I), led in Gujarat by a former darling of the saffron brigade, Mr Shankarsinh Vaghela, tried to outsmart the VHP by announcing its own bandh to protest against the temple outrage on Wednesday, but that has hardly met with much response. The event to watch out for will be the VHP-sponsored bandh on Thursday.
Even as the entire country and the rest of the world condemn the heinous attack on innocent devotees at the temple, the one question being asked is whether there will be a gory communal sequel, as happened after the Godhra tragedy. And a more agonising thought in everyone's minds is: What are we allowing to happen to this country of ours?
The answer is plain enough. Slowly but surely, despite our economic wealth and unsurpassed human capital, our great tradition of tolerance, multi-ethnicity and cultural vibrancy and over half a century of undisputed democratic tradition, we are hurtling down the path of disaster.
Those of us who were born in the decade immediately after the Partition surely remember a childhood where the bitter memories of the post-Independence communal carnage in the Indian sub-continent were quickly put behind us, and people of all religions, castes, cultures and linguistic groups stood shoulder-to-shoulder to create the India of Gandhiji's dreams.
Nobody can claim we came close to that Utopia. But despite our dithering and bungling and the greed and corruption of our political leaders of various hues, we set about the task of nation-building with determination, with hope in our hearts, strength in our collective `Indianness', and resolve and faith in our destiny and in our vision. A vision of making this country self-sufficient in food; of taking it to the pinnacle of economic glory, where it could hold its own in the comity of nations; of enriching and elevating the lives of ordinary Indians through science and technology and, above all, creating a society where Ram and Rahim could live together in peace and harmony.
But over the last 55 years, even while ushering in the Green Revolution and the economic reforms and achieving victories, small and big, whether in space technology or information technology, we have also done everything to countermand our achievements, and with a viciousness even our worst enemies could not have wished for us.
So, while our "Green Revolutions" created mountains of foodgrains which we proudly locked up in our huge godowns, our lopsided policies, our greed and corruption and, above all, our politicians, ensured that even as the country was assuming pride of place among "emerging economies", a section of Indians continued to remain below the poverty line.
We quickly created a new class of people called BPL, tabulated them, created several schemes for them, stamped their ration cards with the three magic letters and announced grandiosely in various Budgets and annual and Five-Year Plans, that they will get so much rice or wheat at cheap rates, jobs through various rozgar yojanas, and houses through some more magic yojanas.
But we failed miserably to put systems in place to ensure that all these magic schemes worked. As the economy and GDP grew, along with our population, the stake of coming to and staying in power grew so huge that, in the 1980s and 1990s, the political classes zeroed in on a magic formula to grab power. Instead of preaching to us the religion of humanity and compassion, which would ensure that the welfare schemes meant for the really poor reached them and did not swell the coffers of those in charge of dispensing them, they re-wrote for us, with a pen dipped in vitriol and hatred, the meaning of the word religion.
And so Hinduism, or Islam or Christianity or Sikhism or Jainism which should have strictly remained within our homes, hearts and souls was dragged into the political arena, thrashed and squeezed and manipulated in a thousand different ways, to fill our hearts and minds with hatred.
The 1980s saw the Hindus and Muslims polarised around a mere structure of brick and mortar the Babri Masjid, in Ayodhya and 1992 saw it come tumbling down. Each step towards that end saw the massive ebb and flow in the fortunes of political parties, and the clamour for the possession of the disputed site continues to influence the outcome of election after election in key Indian States, especially in the Hindi heartland.
Of course, close on the heels of the communal politics came the Mandalisation of the country, and playing the caste card by dividing the people in various groups and sub-groups furthered the rise of many a political leader. As a sideshow, we allowed certain regions of this country to feel "alienated" for any number of reasons, releasing the Frankenstein of terrorism.
The Punjab problem was created and, mercifully enough, combated successfully, but not before it extracted its heavy toll. Kashmir continues to simmer and is frequently brought to the boil by our neighbour. And we are sitting on another time-bomb in the North-East.
But do our leaders really care? Can they think beyond the next panchayat/municipality election? Coming to the latest incident in Gujarat and the attack on the Swaminarayan temple, it is only one case of the monster of communalism let loose by our politicians, continuing to torment us. Only the naïve would ask why we cannot control it. A stupid question, because no politician worth his/her Parliament/Assembly/Municipality/Panchayat seat would want to do that. And so, once again, it might be time to pull out all the weapons at your command ranging from AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, used by the terrorists who attacked the temple, to knives, lathis, spears, trishuls, axes or what have you. Meanwhile, all fingers point at Pakistan and the desperation of its ISI at the voter turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir elections. Another communal holocaust in Gujarat will only give its leaders one more chance to step up the anti-India rhetoric at international fora.
One saving grace, is the way in which the Central leadership handled the crisis. The deputy Prime Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, who represents the Gandhinagar constituency in the Lok Sabha, rushed to the spot, recorded a measured and calculated response, and appealed for peace, resulting in his protégé, Mr Narendra Modi, parroting the appeal to the people of Gujarat to maintain communal peace and harmony.
Though it will take a while before the saner elements take Mr Modi at his word, one factor that holds out hope that March 2002 will not revisit Gujarat is the Assembly election. One more round of violence, and Mr Modi's `friend', the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr J. M. Lyngdoh, will postpone the Gujarat elections by at least a couple of months. That is certainly something Mr Modi and his party do not want. Once again we return to the burden of this column: Each time a religion or a place of worship is attacked, there is political capital to be made. So, one can rest assured that this time around, Mr Modi and his administration will not have the least interest in asking the police to look the other way, if and when the Muslims are attacked in "a spontaneous outburst" of violence.
But, seen against the larger picture, this would be but a minor breather. The attack on the Akshardham temple is yet another lethal body-blow to the nation and the legacy we leave behind for our children.
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