Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why are “secular” parties loth to assert the truth?

Who casts the first stone?

Teesta Setalvad
(Weekly Column Rashtriya Sahara, October 18, 2013)

Much of the successfully circulated propaganda  generated by Hindu majoritarian political organisations that has effectively absolved them of any blame or responsibility  of inciting violence and bloodshed in the public consciousness has been on the debate of “who casts the first stone?”  In riot after riot they have attempted to absolve themselves of any blame by projecting that it is the Muslims,   who have in every communal conflagration  cast the first stone, that is then followed by “justifiable retaliatory acts by Hindus in self-defence.”
Detailed investigations by most  judicial commissions that have investigated  communal riots since Independence have in their findings held the systematic posioning of the atmosphere through provocative acts by Hindu communal organisations like the RSS, Jana Sangh, Shiv Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad Bajrang Dal and affiliates responsible for injecting the poison of communalism into the atmosphere that manoevres Muslims into apparently throwing the first stone.
Aggressive, often female spokespersons for the RSS, have in recent months, in callous disregard for the attacks on minority life and property that have been systemic since  the first post independence incident of communal conflagration (Jabalpur, 1961),  have tried to blame only the government in power, i.e. Congress governments in most part for outbreaks of violence. That the party in power should take moral responsibility for not preventing the outbreak of violence nor punishing the perpetrators is undoubtedly true. For this the Congress will always need to give morally convincing answers.
(Modi in Gujarat backed by NDA at the Centre in 2002 followed this legacy of unaccountability and moral turpitude as did Naveen Patnaik with the BJP dealing with the attacks on Christians in Kandhmals, Orissa in 2008)
But what makes this aggressive defence of the violence in Gujarat 2002 by BJP men and women, weak and indefensible is that it conceals one aspect of the dire truth about the earlier outbreaks of anti-minority violence. While the governments in these cases have been headed by ‘secular’ parties, the perpetrators – in all cases-- as named by Judicial Commisions of Inquiry have always been organizations like the RSS, Jana Sangh, Shiv Sena or other majoritaria outfits of the Hindu right.  
The moot question is why spokespersons of ‘secular’ outfits especially the Congress are loth to rebut this tirade. Is the reason an incomplete reading or understanding of historical facts  or the reluctance to call a spade a spade? The non-Congress, secular opposition, including the left, is too busy protecting its own independent identity outside of the Congress to bother with such factual and historical niceties.
Let’s have a look at the findings of the Justice Raghubar Dayal Commission of Inquiry into the Riots in Ranchi, Sholapur, Malegaon, Ahmednagar, Sursand, Jaipur and Suchetpur, 1967:- “ In 1967, the riot apparently began on August 22, 1967 when a procession of Hindu boys  protesting against the imposition of Urdu  were stoned by some Muslims.  But if we look at the events 10 days preceding August 22, the provocative slogans raised by the agitators and their conduct throws more light on the methods and motives of the agent provacateurs….. In 1967, a United Front government came to power with the Jana Sangh as one of its constituents riding to power on a 33-point manifesto that included the promise to make Urdu   the second official language of the state. On July 14 that year when a non-official bill to make Urdu the second official language was introduced in the state legislature, the Jana sangh, some Congress members and a non-official organisation called the Hindi Sahitya Sammellan announced a state-wide agitation against the Bill from August 12 to 26. Various anti-Urdu programmes were launched  during the anti-Urdu week including the distribution of anti-Urdu pamphlets and taking out processions raising anti-Urdu slogans. The language of the leaflets was most offensive and provocative and objectionable arguments posited against Urdu and Muslims. One such titled, “A Challenge to the Manhood of the Next Generation”, Muslims were declared anti-national,  and the new generation of students exhorted to stand up against them. These series of provocations had been openly carried out for ten days before the first stone, by a Muslim, was cast.”
The chief minister of Bihar between March 5, 1967 and January 28, 1968 was Mahamaya Prasad Sinha who belonged to the Jana Kranti Dal (330 days). (SSP, Praja socialist party and the CPI) This was the period when nine state governments for the first time in 20 years after independence did owe allegiance to the Congress. The battle between the old (Syndicate) and new guard finally led to Indira Gandhi re-establishing her supremacy and sway with bank nationalization and ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan and programme(1969).
In 1969, Ahmedabad, Gujarat was racked apart by the brute communal violence with chief minister of the Congress, Hitendra Desai at the helm. Here is what the official commission of Inquiry headed by justices Jagmohan Reddy, Mullah and another senior judge had to say about how the anti-minority violence came about, “Some writings in the Gujarati newspapers  and most leaflets, handbills and appeals made in the name of the Dharm Raksha Samiti related the story of the stray incident of the hitting of the glass panel by an street-child, who happened to be a Muslim to the “historical” role of Muslims as destroyers of Hindu temples and dharma (religion). They also spread rumours of the rape and molestation of Hindu women, again an oft-repeated technique in many riots related again to the “historical “ rapes of Hindu women by Muslim invaders, for which two acts  Muslims had to be “taught a lesson”. On the walls of the large Muslim-owned hostel, Qamar hostel, wall-writings read, “Muslims Quit India.”   Ajit Bhattacharjee’s Report on Ahmedabad, Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, New Delhi 1969 says that during the first three days of rioting which took toll of a thousand lives and property worth crores of rupees, the police failed to take firm action as a matter of policy.  The Report reveals that responsible Congress leaders justified the delay in putting down the riots on political grounds –they feared that the political cost of  coming down hard on  rioters early might well have seen a Jana Sangh government in power in 1972 (the next election). This has been at the crux of Congress’ unprincipled governance highlighted again during the post-Babri Masjid demolition violence in December 1992-January 1993. Justice BN Srikrishna Commission report that we published in 1995 is a sad testimony to the cynical policy of not holding the guilty to account.
The formation of the communal and rabid Shiv Sena in Maharashtra in the 1960s came with a view to break the left trade unions. A judicial commission of inquiry, the Commission of Inquiry into the Communal Disturbances at Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad, 1970 headed by Justice D.P. Madon are part of a voluminous document. Some excerpts : “If the events surrounding the Shiv Jayanti procession in Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad are looked at more closely, the start of the riot was not with the simplistic reaction of the procession being attacked by a group of Muslims. Tension, as the Commission of Inquiry report itself suggests, did not begin with the Shiv Jayanti celebrations of that year but began in 1964, the first year that the practice of publicly celebrating Shiv Jayanti had been started and had seen an annual build up in tensions since.  This practice did not only introduce the poison of communalism in Bhiwandi indirectly, but through the years, the organisers did not make any attempt to disguise the real motive and anti-Muslim slogans and provocative floats were part of the celebrations from the very beginning, the first year. In spite of police opposition the organisers made every attempt to incite  rioting by insisting on taking their procession through Muslim-dominated areas, throwing gulal (coloured powder) at Mosques and shouting incdiary slogans like “we will ground any one who opposes us into dust.” In his report to his superiors, The SP, Thane district has stated, “ I found that a section of Hindu elements, particularly the RSS and some PSP men were bent upon creating mischeif. Their idea in accompanying the procession was not so much to pay respects to the Great Shivaji but to establish their right and if possible to provoke and humiliate Muslims.” (Vol,1, pg 165). … It was in 1970 that for the first time propaganda was carried on in villages exhorting villagers  to participate in the Shiv Jayanti procession in Bhiwandi and this was the first year when villagers were mobilised to participate by the Rashtrriya Utsav Mandal, an off shoot of the Jana Sangh, and the Shiv Sena and the object of these organisations in bringing villagers to participate was “to intimidate the Muslims”, the participants carried lathis to which bhagwa flags were tied, banners of the three organisations, the Jana Sangh, the RUM and the SS were displayed by processionists. (pts 1,2,3 of the report)…..
Slogans like “Galli galli mein shor hai, Sab Mussalmaan chor hai”, “Shiv Sena Zindabad”, Rashtriya Utsav Mandal Zindabad”, “Aala re aala Hindu aala, Gela re Gela, Laandya gela. Two persons who were arrested by two policemen present were thereafter released after the Jana Sangh and SS leaders of the processions threatened the police with trial. From the time that the two arrested Hindus were released , the Police lost all control over the situation. “It would have been much better  had the officers remained firm and and not released the two Hindus.” VP Naik ruled as the Congress chief minister at the time and in 1992-1993 it was his son, Sudhakarrao Naik who had allowed Bombay to burn.
The comments of the Justice Joseph Vithyathil report on the Tellicherru disturbances in 1971 are also telling. They expose the sinister designs of the RSS at all times breeding hatred and remaining in a state of preparedness for violence.
“ In Tellicherry the Hindus and Muslims were living as brothers for centuries. The ‘Mopla riots’ did not affect the cordial relationship that existed between the two communities in Tellicherry. It was only after the RSS and the Jana Sangh set up their units and began activities in Tellicherry  that there came a change in the situation. Their anti-Muslim propaganda, its reaction on the Muslims who rallied round their communal organisation, the Muslim league which championed their cause , and the communal tension that followed prepared the background for their disturbances. According to the RSS, until the Muslims give up their separatist attitude and join the mainstream of Indian National Life there will be no communal harmony in this country. Guruji Golwalkar is said to have a very simple remedy for communal riots in India. He said: “Let Muslims look upon Rama as their hero and the communal problems will be over.” (Organiser, June 20, 1971). That is what the rioters who attacked the house of Kuhammad (P58W1) asked him to do. “If you want to save your life you should go round the house three times repeating the words ‘Rama, Rama’. Kunhammad did that. But you cannot expect the 70 million Muslims of India to do that as a condition for maintaining communal harmony in the country. This attitude of the of the RSS can only help to compel the Muslims to take shelter under their own communal organisation.”
A similar pattern has been observed by the writer as I have studied the outbreaks of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence since the 1960s. In 1984 it was the Congress in power and Congress leaders inciting mobs.
This history is a chequered and problematic one, a history for which the Congress and secular parties (now even the SP given the Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013) need to own up to.  It has bred a culture of impunity against prosecution for mass crimes. The Congress and secular parties must be made by each one of us to accept moral and political responsibility. One systemic remedy that has been offered is the long overdue Prevention of Communal and Targeted violence (Justice and Repaarations) law. This is an outstanding promise of UPA I since 2004.
However to correct this chequered past history and record, we need to make a sagacious choice. We need to be firm, uncompromising and independent in leading and joining the struggle for accountability and prosecution of the guilty. This will always be a battle that will be fought by us, the survivors, thinking citizens alone. Our ally will be the Indian Constitution,, the rule of law and the Indian judiciary.
However, despairing of this bleak and chequered history, surely we cannot. Knowingly, hand over the political baton to the very organizational perpetrators of political hatred, those who have for decades now (nearly a century since 1921) perpetrated a politics of “us” versus “them” and validated a form of “superior” and “inferior” citizenship and benefitted from a nationwide divide being at the cause and epicenter of communal violence.
To do so would be suicidal not just for Indian Muslims, Christians but all right thinking Indians, all citizens.
It would be like jumping straight from the frying pan, into the fire.

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