Saturday, March 24, 2012

Are they drowned in Modi’s magnetism? Is this worship exigency? Anil

An Aarti From Time, A Brookings Chalisa
Are they drowned in Modi’s magnetism? Is this worship exigency?

arendra Modi is no doubt a successful politician. There is almost a special kind of luck that accompanies him in the public domain, luck that can be explained in two decisive electoral victories and the attraction that follows such success. He is constantly in the news and a set of those who fear and adulate the man suggest that the more the institutions of justice berate him, the more his TRP soars. News constantly props up the picture of a decisive chief minister. Last week, Time had him on the cover and Brookings Institution had a favourable report on him. There is a curious timing behind these reports. They hint that he is prime ministerial material and that a realistic sense of politics demands that one engage with the emerging Indian future.

One can match statistics with statistics to show that Modi’s achievement is exaggerated, that other states have done well or that GNP and GDP could take contrary turns in Gujarat. One can say, for instance, that in the five years between 2004-05 and 2009-10, Gujarat’s per capita income nearly doubled from Rs 32,021 to Rs 63,961. In the same period, neighbouring Maharashtra, the perceived laggard, saw its per capita income grow from Rs 35,915 to Rs 74,027. Several states besides Gujarat have shown double digit growth in their GDP in recent years, and Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have bigger economies. Gujarat now runs a revenue deficit—it spends more than it earns—and its surplus has disappeared. Several other states have improved their fiscal positions meanwhile. Reforms? Five states passed the Fiscal Responsibility Bill before Gujarat did in 2005, and 20 states preceded Gujarat in implementing VAT. Surplus power? Facts on the ground and increasing protests show this to be an exaggerated claim. Human development indicators? Gujarat lags behind in access to primary and higher education, is high on the percentage of population prone to hunger and starvation, access to fiscal credit among the marginalised is low, girl child schooling shows poor figures. State and central government figures support all this.

We think there is also a different way of responding—by asking what is the criteria for decency and well-being? One has to go to the structural roots of the argument, move beyond a gasping portrait of Modi already basking in a future at Lutyens’ Delhi. Time magazine’s two-page picture of Modi on the lawns is suggestive of that. It is as if the props are there, the script is also there, the players are waiting, and all one needs is an auspicious time. The Brookings essay on Modi goes one better and writes him a certificate of good conduct that would help revoke the ban on his US visa. For Brookings, banning a future prime minister would be bad politics.

Why the unholy haste by the brookings institution and time to glamourise a glamour-hungry modi who could well face charges of mass murder?

Time cites a social scientist in a preemptive act, a jumping of the gun proclaiming a once and future king before the democratic and legal process is over. Indian courts are yet to assess whether the evidence collected by investigators and assessed by the amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court can make out a case to prosecute Modi, his cabinet colleagues, ideologues, administrators and policemen. The charges are criminal culpability to conspire to commit mass murder, subvert the justice process and destroy critical evidence and records. Why then, we may ask, the unholy haste by Time magazine and the Brookings Institution when courts are seized of the matter, Modi could (or may not) be charge-sheeted for criminal offences, when general elections are nearly two years away?

The analysis presented states that Muslims are voting for Modi as the Congress is too weak to do anything for them. The question one has to ask is: Is such a lazy social science enough? Which section of Muslims is voting for Modi? Two, is a vote for Modi a legitimation of Modi or is it a shotgun wedding of a community that is desperate to survive and see that its people still wrongfully locked in jail are released?

Anyone who watched the Sadbhavna festival would realise that the Muslims who came were paying court to a king. There was no rapprochement, no forgiveness. If anything, the ritual expressed its distance from Muslim life. The Sadbhavna yatra was more a power game like ancient times where people swore fealty to the lord. The state government, in the ultimate display of control, has refused activists access to accounts of the public monies spent on an autocratic chief minister’s personal agenda.

One has to read the metaphors of the Time report. Modi is presented as wearing the white of a penitent embarking on fasts. The writer, Jyoti Thottam, suggests it’s an act of purification,
humility and bridge-building. To read Modi’s Sadbhavna fasts in this way insults the idea of fast as a moral weapon and confuses it for a strategic tool. White, anyway, is the most hypocritical colour of politicians. The question one has to ask before one uses words like humility and purity is: What is the moral nature of the act?

But Modi should not be seen only a personality. He is a Rorschach inkblot set before society, provoking basic questions. Modi, in terms of civic indicators like investment, rule of law and governance is scoring high. These statistics have been rigorously contested in the public domain, by the Gujarati media, by the opposition, even the state government’s own figures. And what about the CAG reports on Sufalam Sujalam project, the Kutch melas and the public disinvestment scams? A dispassionate assessment exposes the Modi makeover for the brazen public relations job it was meant to be.

The question that needs asking is whether modi fits into a vision of a society where the minorities have a place, where dissent has a place.

And then how does one look at and talk about his institution-building? He has refused to allow the Lokayukta to function freely. He has silenced the bureaucracy with threats, incentives of plum posts, juicy extensions that let senior bureaucrats retain power and visibility. His privatisation of medicine has to be independently assessed in terms of ethics, care, cost and well-being. Ahmedabad, home to at least four universities and some of the finest institutes, still cannot produce a critical debate on him, as many institutes have quietly imposed a gag order on dissenting intellectuals. The Congress, though weak as an opposition, has highlighted a major issue. Land is being bequeathed to major corporations like Tatas and Adanis on easy terms, transforming public lands into private goods. At the Gujarati taxpayer’s expense.

The Brookings narrative adds a second halo to Modi. It converts him tacitly from a politician to a statesman receiving courses on climate change and even writing a book on it. Behind both essays is an even more tacit semiotics. It is what we must call the Americanisation of Modi. It creates a political palatability to his reception abroad. Leave aside the American’s love of the Asian dictator with a keen and ready investment plan, there is first the Horatio Alger syndrome, portraying him as a self-made man, as a protestant ascetic, a journey Time portrays in the from-smalltown-boy-to-CEO-of-Gujarat, succeeding without family connections or fancy education. He seems very different from the young Congress elite, with their pampered backgrounds. Unlike other Indians, he keeps his family at a distance. There is no family coterie hanging around him, unlike around Laloo Prasad Yadav or Karunanidhi or Yediyurappa. The Brookings report then steps in by showing Modi to be a keen student of American politics, wondering whether Indian states can have the sort of freedom states in the United States do. He is entrepreneurly, eco-friendly, and all in all, a global man awaiting his time, open to World Bank reforms and yet a home-grown nationalist. Modi is also presented not just as prime ministerial material but as the Indian answer to China, a note that will play deep into the American and Indian psyche, presenting them a streamlined politician for the future.

The question one is asking is not whether Modi is a future prime minister. The logic of Indian electoral politics will answer that. The question is: Where does Modi fit into a vision of decent society in which the minorities and those in the margins have a place, in which dissent has a place? Is Modi’s future a participative future and a pluralistic one? His technocratic credentials are not in doubt, but his vision of democracy needs to be examined. Oddly, Modi might fail by the norms set by his own hero, Swami Vivekananda. Modi has failed to provide a civilisational answer to the crisis of Gujarat. Investment and development, even with the distorted statistics bandied around, are poor substitutes for such a vision. In Americanising him, the reports reveal the modernist flaw deep within his programme.

(The authors are trustees of Citizens for Justice and Peace)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Insaf Ki Dagar Par (On the Path of Justice)

by Dr Bindu Desai

Insaf Ki Dagar Par (On the Path of Justice)

Recalling the pogrom in Gujarat, February 2012

February 27th marked the tenth anniversary of the horrific events that followed the terrible fire in a train compartment near Godhra. The fire resulted in the tragic death of 59 ‘kar sevaks’, more than 100 were injured. They were returning from Ayodhya as part of a campaign to build a temple dedicated to Ram on the site where previously a Masjid had existed. In the next few days and weeks Gujarat witnessed carnage where thousands of individuals, mainly Muslim, were murdered, raped, looted, displaced, their homes ransacked, livelihood destroyed.

A number of organizations planned a Memorial for February 27th in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Lucknow, Malegaon, Aligarh, Calicut, Delhi and Ayodhya-Faizabad. Teesta Setalvad asked me if I would attend the one at the Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, where 68 people were murdered, their bodies allowed to smoulder for days. 28 are still listed as ‘missing’. I felt it a privilege to be part of such a memorial service. So come February 27th morning I left for Ahmedabad by the Shatabdi Express. Approaching the road on which Gulberg Society is located I could see the building from afar. I got down at a gate which was guarded by two policemen; they directed me to the main gate where some 30 policemen, a few with automatic weapons guns, stood by. A thought flashed through me: if only they had been there a decade ago and done their duty Gulberg Society would be peopled and full of life.

The society is L shaped. At the short arm of the L is a small bungalow. The long arm has a central path with many cottages on either side and two high rises of 3 stories. The central path was filled with people; many had come from villages affected by the pogrom. Their presence made the place appear less sinister. There were children whose energy was a refreshing balm to the somber reality of empty buildings, shattered windows and walls with burn marks.

Teesta was busy arranging events; I waved to her and embraced her. “Kem Che Deekra” I asked? She guided me to tables where I could leave my travel bag. I was keen to change into a sari, as I had worn a pair of slacks and a kurta for the train journey. I had a sari with me and had earlier inquired if I could change into it at the site. A Sayra Sandhi led me to the only room that afforded a bit of privacy. The police made way for us; one even carried my overnight case to the verandah. So helpful today when 10 years ago several of their colleagues had led the 20,000 strong mob into Gulberg and watched idly while acts of infamy were carried out, ah, police obey orders do they not? Sayra was dressed in a Gujrati style sari. As I introduced myself and told her I was a friend of Teesta’s, she said matter of factly:”Teestaben works very hard for us. My son died here”. Later I learnt that her brother-in-law, her sister-in-law, her niece were among those murdered.

The presence of loss was everywhere; neither the bright shining sun nor the exuberant bougainvillea could overcome this feeling. I sat in the shade and tried to absorb the reality of the place. No photograph captures the enduring sadness; the sheer inability to accept that in such a solid, pleasant airy place on a bustling road of a great city, scores of people could be burnt alive. My mind refused to accept that this could happen, and yet it did. Highly inflammable chemicals were used, the killing preplanned with precision. I looked up at shattered windows, empty doorways and overgrown grass.

There being numerous events recalling the carnage making for a long day, the organizers had provided everything one would need for the long day: Cold water jugs every 30 to 50 feet, bottles of water, endless cups of tea. The families of some survivors had cooked fresh snacks and sweets for those who had come to share their sorrow. Later in the evening 4 rounds of “dhoop” were carried through the grounds to ward off mosquitoes and insects. There were quite a lot of persons from the media, press and TV.

A statement was issued by Retired Mumbai High Court Judge Hosbet Suresh who had been one of 8 distinguished jurists, academics and activists forming the Concerned Citizen’s Tribunal that had investigated the Gujarat carnage in 2002. Teesta introduced me to the Justice. Clad in a Khadi kurta-pyjama one could not help being impressed by his down to earth-ness and transparent simplicity. He had spent 2 weeks in Gujarat for the Tribunal and felt that there could be no moving on till the wheels of Justice brought those responsible for these crimes to answer for their horrific deeds.

I was pleasantly surprised to meet Valjibhai Patel, a respected Dalit leader who I had met 2 decades ago. He told me that generally in a conflagration against Muslims he was able to save lives, here he said he was not able to, the police themselves had encouraged the mobs. He recounted the courage and bravery of a Dalit Someshwar Pandya who had managed to save 100 of 133 in Sardarpura and who was later beaten by BJP goons and lost an eye. Valjibhai was critical of the media which he characterized as irresponsible, at times publishing outright untruths. Taking action against the media is a tortuous process requiring a Police Inspector to agree that lies have been published, he explained. A Police Inspector, who agreed and moved the Government to take action, was transferred, the replacement said there was no case worth pursuing and the matter was dropped. Valjibhai looked fit and full of zest to continue his lifelong pursuit of justice and fairness for those marginalized and oppressed.

I met Trupti Shah and Rohit Prajapati, activists from Vadodara who had been involved in seeking justice for the many victims of this pogrom in their home city. Mallika Sarabhai came to affirm her solidarity with the victims. I went around the society and was shaken by what I saw. On a wall hung photographs of those killed, to name a few: Azar Dara Modi, whose family was at the site today, and who would have been 24 this year and upon whom the film Parzania is based; Ehsan Jafri, a former MP who was murdered most brutally whose widow, son and daughter were there; photos of Sayra’s family Mohammedhusen Salimbhai Sandhi, Jahangirbhai Noormohammed Sandhi. What tore at one’s heart was their faces, full of hope for what life might hold for them, hardest to bear with were those of children and babies….There were blanks for those missing or those whose family did not possess a photo of their loved one.

The building where Ehsan Jafri lived was visited by many to pay homage to the scores who perished in it. They had come seeking shelter and thinking his previous high office, as he was a former Member of Parliament, might offer protection. Nearby a toran fluttered with rectangular strips of paper on which people had written what they wished for, most wished for justice.

Close relatives addressed those present, among them Dara and Rupa Modi. It was difficult to hold back tears as individuals recounted how neighbours had turned against them. The afternoon sun gradually sank below the horizon. Suresh Mehta, former BJP Chief Minister came , saying it was his duty to come. A decade ago emotions had been allowed to rule, what had happened was wrong , he went on. I was honoured to meet R B Sreekumar, former Director General of Police(DGP) and at the time of the massacres Additional(Addl) DGP Intelligence Branch(IB). He has testified in detail, over 1000 pages he told me, of how the Modi government colluded in and encouraged the long reign of terror unleashed upon the Muslims of Gujarat. To meet Sreekumar was to meet a genuine hero. A man of dignity, forthright and taking his duties seriously, he invited the ire of the Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat Narendra Modi. Sreekumar was transferred from Addl DGP IB to Police Reform, where as our police are so conscientious there was not much for him to do! Deprived of his pension on retirement he took the Gujarat Government to court and won his pension and his promotion to DGP. Sreekumar, very simply said his loyalty was to the Government of India and to the office of the Chief Minister, not to the person who happened to be CM. He felt those IAS and IPS officers who surround Modi nowadays are so afraid of him that they indulge in ‘anticipatory sycophancy’! How glad one is that Sreekumar is as upright as he is, how much better India would be if there were countless officials like him. His wife Rajlakshmi who sat next to him was unassuming and when I asked how she managed when they had no pension for 2 years, she smiled and said ‘I have to support Sreekumar; Teesta helped us with getting good lawyers to fight our case’.

Dusk saw the arrangements being made for Shubha Mudgal’s concert. I thought I should have a small snack as I expected to be at Gulberg till late at night and went to see where they were being distributed. I could not find the table and decided I would do without it. After a few minutes I saw a gentleman approach the empty chair near me with a plate of snacks in his hand. I asked him where he had got it. He replied “I’ll get you a plate if you hold this magazine for me.” I did so, he returned and sat on the chair beside me. I leaned over to introduce myself and shake his hand. “I am Bindu Desai” I said, “I am Tanvir Jafri” he replied, I gripped his hand strongly, lowered my eyes and winced. He nodded implying that he understood I was trying to convey how deeply I regretted what had been done to his family. We were silent for a few minutes. He now lives with his mother Zakia in Surat. “I cannot live in Ahmedabad now” he said in a soft voice. His sister Nishrin who lives in the USA came by and remarked how good it was for her mother to have so many survivors come and sit by her and talk to her. One marvels at how this family can maintain their equanimity after the gruesome way in which their father Ehsan Jafri was killed.

Shiv Vishwanathan, who had written the latest issue of Communalism Combat: 2002-2012: The Gujarat Genocide TEN YEARS LATER, was as he has been in his writings witty, scholarly and deeply committed to getting Justice for the victims. Shiv and his students provided the audio-visual back up for the meet. The stage for Shubha Mudgal was ready on the terrace of the L end of Gulberg Society. Candles were lit by young and old and their flickering light reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s words:

“In the midst of darkness light persists,

In the midst of untruth truth persists

I n the midst of death life persists,”

Tridip Suhrud introduced Shubha Mudgal and her words before the concert set the tone for what followed. Shubha first acknowledged her accompanying musicians Aneesh Pradhan on the tabla, Sudhir Nayak on the harmonium. She began by apologizing for coming so late to the struggle for Justice and said that what she would sing today was not an entertainment but a tribute and a recall of what religion and a citizen’s sense of security should be. Her voice rang through the air, the crescent moon and an occasional star shining down, witness to our crimes, perhaps wondering how a decade later such an exquisite voice could fill the air of so sad a place. She sang of Mazhab as love, of, an individual perplexed at being singled out by fate, of the gnawing pain and grief of losing loved ones…..

I have been to Hiroshima and Auschwitz. Both conveyed their own particular horror and unsettling and painful as they were, Gulberg society was wrenching. Though the US has never meaningfully apologized for its barbaric acts, Germany has admitted its crimes and provided reparation. Official Gujarat has shown no remorse, the larger society has reelected the instigator twice and admires him. But a decade later the struggle goes on. It is awesome to behold the determination of 540 witnesses, a lot of them women, who have been given armed protection ordered by the Supreme Court of India, not to give up, to pursue the matter diligently and persistently till those guilty are punished for their crimes. The overwhelming force that drives them is to ensure that other sisters, widows and mothers do not have to endure what they have had to.

Over 3000 thousand people had come to Gulberg Society to pay their respects to the dead and missing and to offer such comfort as they might to those whose grief is bottomless.

May Justice be done and soon.