Weekly Column Rashtriya Sahara
Opinion Polls way ahead of the next general elections predicted three things: a sharp decline in the popularity of the ruling UPA, the failure of India’s main opposition to pick up successfully on this disillusionment of the voter, and finally therefore a huge uncertainty on what shape the next government will take and who will head it.
The main opposition party, desperate to grab power, by fair means or foul, stalled Parliament for two years not allowing any constructive legislative process underway. The ruling Congress allowed the disruption to lodge itself into national consciousness earning itself the label of indecisive, inept and of course, corrupt. It was only in the recent Monsoon session, towards the end, that a new focus and direction was found and the Food Bills and the Land Acquisition Bills passed, ignoring the BJP sulks and tantrums. Two promises made by the UPA have been kept, on hunger and land. One remains a shattered broken promise.
Nearly a decade back, in 2004, UPA I swept to power in a wave of change. While the arrogance of the NDA’s India Shining campaign has been given sole credit, the reaction of the real India to the horrors of Gujarat 2002, have been, typically underestimated. The vocal, Hindu upper class would rather not acknowledge this electoral judgement of democratic India against brute and unashamed state sponsored violence. A stark promise that remains unfulfilled was to enact a law to ensure protect the lives and properties of religious minorities from mass and targeted and violence by a special law that held the police and administration liable if they failed to act. A bad first draft in 2005 was shelved after protests from a wide spectrum of groups until the NAC during the term of UPA II, after a two year long process, sent a Draft to government in April 2011. The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (PCTV) and Justice and Reparations Bill has been sought to be killed before its birth.
The home ministry under Chidambaram instead of re-working and finalizing the NAC recommendations into a final UPA II government draft deliberately put it up for discussion before the National Integration Council (NIC). The BJP, VHP and RSS responsible then and now in Muzaffarnagar for fomenting hatred and violence were the most vocal opponents. But the litmus test is for a government overtly wedded to its 2004 promise, Will it deliver?
Campaigners for such a law including this writer have urged the government to present a final version of the Draft, table it before the Rajya Sabha and send it to a Standing Committee for deliberations. We are not asking for a hasty passage of the law as happened in the case of the Land Acquisition Bills. What then stalls the government from keeping its promise? Is it pure opportunism or soft communalism?
The tragic recent killings – over 50 dead as this morning’s toll is counted – in western UP (Muzaffarnagar) demand just such a law. Akhilesh Yadav and his father have no answer for why the administration allowed aggressively armed and violent mobilizations like the ‘Mahapanchayats’ in the district in early September (7) when there had been tensions since August 27. Transferring an SP and DM, that too in the midst of fast escalating conflict, made matters worse. The answer we demand is, will there be prosecution of these officers, the SP and DM? The brazen violation of curfew by the BJP and other organizations that were part of the organizers of this violent rally is typical; it happened in 19 districts of Gujarat in 2002 post Godhra. Worse still, mobile and email and face book were used to spread lies; the kind of lies the RSS has spread since the first ever attack of communal took place in Jabalpur in 1961; a relationship between a bidi-worker man (happened to be Muslim) and a Hindu girl was portrayed for the initial days as a case of ‘abduction’ to justify brute violence against Muslims. Today in Muzaffarnagar a similar narrative is in place. An alleged rape of a Dalit by allegely Muslim youth needed to be investigated fairly and promptly which was also not done. Today the RSS-VHP, organizations that brazenly violate the law and incite intra community tensions are propagating fabricating theories of ‘love jehad’ to justifting ‘the anger unleashed against Muslims.’ (Sudarshan, a UP VHP leader in The Hindu today).
If however the prevention of communal violence law had been in place, an Independent National level and District level Monitoring mechanism would have been in place; the officers and administrators could have been held liable in a court of law, Victims and Survivors would have been empowered to access investigation papers and fight their own legal battles independent of inept governments; hate speech and hate writing could be prosecuted; deemed sanction would not hamper such legal efforts and, most important of all, just reparation and compensation would be their due. Having such a law in place would not necessarily have put an end to such communal mobilizations and violence but acted as a strong deterrent and preventive. In the run up to the next elections (2014) UPA II needs to be held to this promise, chastised for an unforgiveable delay.
Along with the VHP, the media and each one of us should put the BJP on the mat. Days after Narendra Modi, whom the Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by Justices Krishna Iyer, PB Sawant and Suresh called ‘ the sole architect of a state sponsored genocide’ was selected Campaign in Charge for his party – unmindful of the serious charges pending against him in a court of law – he sent his dubious confidante Amit Shah to Uttar Pradesh. Shah within days raised communal temperatures by speaking of the perennial BJP fall-back ‘Ram temple at Ayodhya.’ Within weeks of this VHP launched the Kosi yatra that was stopped by Akhilesh and Mulayam who were however hamstringed with the Jat Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar? Why? Were they like the BJP (who has openly said that the Modi-Shah combo is to polarize and get more votes in the vital north Indian state) also trying, cynically, to bank on violence and polarisation to reap electoral dividends?
A Jat leader from Rajasthan, now with the BJP gleeful told journalists on Monday, “ Now we will win 21 seats here, in Western UP.” Can the crass and sinister politics of the BJP nationally, ever be any clearer. Why is the national media shy of putting India’s main opposition party on the mat for the politics of killing, hatred and division?
If this country is to be saved from the fires of communal violence yet again, the media more than anyone else should pull off its kid gloves when it speaks to Modi and the BJP. Modi cannot and should not be protected from the developments on the ground at Muzaffarnagar. What is his take? Where does he stand? Buying 5,000 skullcaps and Burqas is not an answer.
FIRs for inflammatory speeches, it has been reported have been filed against 4 BJP leaders, one Congress leader and one politician of the BSP. Subramanian Swamy and Praveen Togadia, both pathological in their hatreds for minorities have been booked for abusive and incendiary ‘twitters’. What about the Communal Statements that violate Indian Penal Law being made by the RSS, VHP etc? What about the video and email trail? We know the track record of compromise of the SP and BJP in the Varun Gandhi ‘hate speech case.’ After registration of FIRs will offences be forgotten? Or the cases taken to their logical conclusion?
Post Script: Amidst all the gore, reports of compassion and kindness save our sanity and India’s social fabric. Even as politicians let us down, the impressive home of Bijender Singh, the Jat pradhan of Kharad village welcomed with warm and open arms, 150 Muslim families, mostly women and children and the elderly. For over two days, with food from his rations, Singh and his gentle wife looked after their welcome guests. He did it at some personal risk. "We all could hear the shouts. `Let us attack this house', `Let's scale these walls', `Force them to come out'. This was after word had spread that Muslim families had taken shelter in the house. But no one dared come in. Had they done so, we would have been prepared to handle them," says the heavyset Singh. Unbending, he stuck to his faith and refused to buckle. Except Sagir Ahmed the elderly son of an Army jawaan stationed in the North east who had -- believing in his safety—refused to take shelter, and who was mercilessly victim of communal hatred, Bijender Singh and his wife’s exemplary moral courage deserves to be show cased and emulated.
This is our real India and Bharat. Not the false one sought to be constructed on division and blood.