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Lest we forget

Javed Anand | 08th Dec 2012

As I put this column in place, the calendar says it’s December 6. On this very day, 20 years ago, the Babri Mosque was demoli­shed. In the pre-pla­nned communal violence that followed, over 2,000 people were killed and property worth hundreds of crores destroyed in Ayodhya, Bombay (now Mumbai), Surat, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Kanpur and elsewhere.

In the Mumbai edition of two out of five English national dailies, there’s not a word on Ayodhya, its immediate aftermath, and what it has meant for the nation’s polity. Nothing on the news pages, nothing on the opinion pages.

Two others did remember the date as if it was an incident of some minor consequence. Only one of the five newspapers thought it fit to devote three news pages and the main comment piece, highlighting the failure of justice and the lack of punishment for the grievous crimes committed on December 6, 1992, and thereafter. In sharp contrast, Ayodhya dominates the front page of all Urdu dailies in the city; quite likely in the rest of the country, too. There are editorials and there are “letters to the editor”.

The denial of justice to the victims of mass crimes is not so easily erased from the collective memory of the targeted community. But, as always, the perpetrators and conspirators are only too eager for people to forget and “move on”.

In the Ayodhya case, they did not have to wait for long. By 1998, over a dozen self-proclaimed secular parties willing to forget, to forgive, to move on, joined the BJP-led NDA bandwagon and rode to power. L.K. Advani, accused of criminal conspiracy to bring down the Babri Mosque, became the Union home minister: law-breaker- in-chief as the law-keeper-in-chief.

Manohar Joshi, the leader of the Shiv Sena, the party which had, according to the Srikrishna Commi­s­s­ion, led the anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai in December 1992-Ja­nu­a­ry 1993, was elected Sp­e­aker of the Lok Sabha.

In its new avatar, the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led government switched to a swanky new slogan in 2004: “India Shining”. But for the aam aadmi there was little sunshine in the India that s/he inhabited.

And Muslims who had not forgotten 1992 were served another rude reminder: Gujarat 2002. Though in December 2002, Gujarat Chief Minister Naren-dra Modi reaped a rich harvest of votes over dead bodies, the very magic that worked for the BJP in Gujarat proved to be the cause of its national downfall in 2004.

It’s now 2012. In a fortnight (December 20) the result of the Assembly polls in Gujarat will be known. Modi claims he is well on his way to a hat-trick. Though mediapersons on the ground seem unable to detect a wave in Modi’s favour, opinion polls predict a sweep yet again.

This writer is not about to hazard his own guess on the likely outcome in Gujarat. It is far more meaningful to examine why the man who sees the Gujarat Assembly election this time as a mere stepping stone to the Prime Minister’s post in 2014, if not earlier, is acting like a chameleon, speaking with a forked tongue.

The sales pitch of Modi and his PR-ma­chine includes “Vibrant Gujarat”, “good governance”, “sadbhavna” and a barely-hidden Hindutva agenda. Let’s take a quick look.

Vibrant Gujarat: This column space is insufficient for figures and statistics culled out of well-researched papers and articles to show that, one, Gujarat’s high growth in the recent period has been no more impressive than that of several other states, and, two, economic growth in Gujarat has gone hand in hand with shocking human development indices. In the list of “India State Hunger Index 2008”, Gujarat ranked at number 13 among 17 big states.

Two months ago the Congress Party in Gujarat produced statistics to show that 7,062 farmers had committed suicide during the 10 years of Modi’s rule. As Gujarat-based acti-vist Dr Hanif Lakdawala observed in a newspaper comment piece last year: “Can a state (Gujarat) where 45 per cent of children are undernourished, 74 per cent of women are anemic, 33 per cent of the population is illiterate and every 10th person perceives himself as a second-class citizen be called a developed state?” In the list of first-time voters for the 2012 Assembly elections, there are only 601 girls for every 1,000 boys in the age group of 18-19 years. Vibrant Gujarat?

Good governance: Modi’s government has not responded to over 5,000 queries and 15,100 audit observations po-sed by the Com­ptroller and Auditor General. The unanswered queries pertain to suspected irregularities across departments to the tune of Rs 9,000 crore.

Gujarat has had no Lokayukta for eight long years because Modi insists on having his own man there. This invited a sharp rebuke from the Gujarat High Court in January 2012: “Modi’s action and conduct are perilous to our democracy and rule of law.” An appeal by the Gujarat government is now pen-ding before the Supreme Court. Is self-certification adequate proof of good governance?

Sadbhavna: During his sadbhavna farce of 2011, Modi donned a dozen different headgear. The one he categorically refused to put on his head was the Muslim skull-cap. In the list of BJP candidates for the Assembly polls, not a single one is a Muslim. Forget MLAs, there is not a single Muslim municipal corporator in a major city like Vadodara. Inclusive growth?

Hindutva agenda: If Gujarat’s Muslims have an allergy to Modi for his role in the 2002 carnage, most of the state’s Hindus adore him for that very reason. The latter may not be too impressed by tall claims of “Vibrant Gujarat” and good governance, but for many of them he remains their Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts).

As election day draws near, Modi is seen only in saffron jackets and scarves. At his insidious best, Modi has also been warning the electorate of the alleged Congress plan of foisting “Ahmed Mian Patel” (read Mus-lim) as Chief Minister on Gujarat’s Hindus.

In a functioning democracy, there is every reason why Modi should lose. But if he emerges triumphant on December 20, most of the “credit” must go not to Modi, the “guru of good governance”, but to Modi the Hindu Hriday Samrat. And don’t be surprised if the very magic mantra that gets him the Chief Minister’s gaddi yet again in Gujarat buries his PM ambitions.

The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, and co-editor, Communalism Combat

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