Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Secularism on Trial Column for the Week (Rashtriya Sahara to appear May 9)

Secularism on Trial

Column for the Week (Rashtriya Sahara to appear May 9)

Teesta Setalvad

Finally the cat is out of the bag and it is left to be seen whether it will become, as the BJP and its mascot, a rather shrill and desparado type PM-in-waiting wants it, a cat among the pigeons. Or will it in fact become the proverbial albatross with which the BJP will have to bow  its rather thickskinned neck.

Page 41 of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto speaks of the contentitious issues that the RSS first raised through its rabid wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the mid 1980s, and not just enflamed this precious nation, but sowed the seeds of a bitter poison that has still not been bled from its veins. In the name of tushtikaran (appeasement) of the minorities it justified the basest of acts perpetrated through violence against India’s largest minority, the Muslims. Rewarded for this bloodletting through victories at the ballot box (remember the proverbial increase in seats upto the magical figure of 182) it then set abpout it’s agenda launched cynically when the man at the head of the rath, India’s former deputy prime minister and home minister LK Advani had set in motion post Emergency in the Janata government in 1977, fill key positions in the bureaucracy, police, educational institutions and even the judiciary with men and women who owe allegiance not to Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Constitution but to  an ideology that believes in the supremacy of one kind of Indian over another. The fact that India’s lofty institutions of governance caved in to this ideology meant and means that an Advani guilty of a criminal act of witnessing the demolition of a place of religious belief (and conspiring towards the same, remember rallies he held at Mathura and Kashi before December 6, 1992) could rise to occupy the third most important position in Indian politics. This brazen politics of hatred and violence for which the parliamentary wing of the RSS has never been held accountable, the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) now covets for itself not just a central government but a man at the helm who has gone several steps further in the crime notching charts then the offences committed in full public eye on 6.12.1992.

Even if one sets aside the crimes committed in 2002 and since within Gujarat, to be part of a well heeled conspiracy to allow the Godhra tragedy for the vengeful reprisal killings in 19 districts at 300 locations within the state—crimes that include the willful subversion of justice and the destruction of documents—lets zero in on election season and list the acts committed in the here and now.

After voting on April 30, 2014 in Gujarat, the Man who would be PM brazenly violates the Representation of People’s Act by a crude campaigning for his party and himself as he emerges from the booth at Ahmedabad. The Election Commission reacts but the agency that investigates the offence is the selfsame one and the official the very same, Himanshu Shukla who was given the task by RK Raghavan of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of “giving a clean chit to Modi in the Zakia Jafri case”. That matter is still in the Gujarat High Court and far from closed but a crass example of the subversion is the role of the Crime Branch Ahmedabad.

Rewind to Assam and the tragic violence in Kokrajhar that took place during electioneering this week. The prime responsibility for the breakdown of the rule of law must lie with the Congress Tarun Gogoi government but the filthy speeches, hate filled and targeted of the Man who would be PM, since February 2014, created the ripe hate filled climate for the Bodos to strike and must in claw ensure his criminal prosecution.  Immediately after the filthy speech of the man made at a rally on April 1, 2014 what happened?

‘On April 1, immediately after Narendra Modi’s rally in Biswanath Chariali, a local BJP leader, Bhavdev Goswami, told a TV channel that the BJP had the support of the NDFB [National Democratic Front of Bodoland] rebels. At Sri Rampur on the Assam-West Bengal border, Modi said he would drive out all Bangladeshis after May 16.’ [The relevance of May 16 is that the BJP expects to win the marathon election held now, which ends on May 12, whose results will be declared on May 16, 2014.]. Interestingly, the NDFB is an armed separatist outfit which seeks to obtain a sovereign Bodoland for the Bodo people in Assam, India. It is designated as a terrorist organisation by the government of India. According to the Assam police, the NDFB’s Sangbijit group is behind the killings in the massacre of Muslims since May 1, though the group has denied its role in a press statement.
The published reports from Assam show that on April 1, Bhavdev Goswami claimed in front of a television camera that he along with some other party workers had a meeting with members of two NDFB factions — Sangbijit and Ranjan Daimary — at Bhalukpung and they had pledged support to the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP candidate from Tezpur constituency, RP Sarma, also reportedly told the TV channel that he was aware of the meeting. The BJP’s Sonitpur West district president Ritubaran Sarma later denied that any such meeting took place.
These video casettes of these channels can clearly provide independent and exemplary proof of the claims of the Assam police. Besides the fact that the NDFB was opposing the Congress was clear.  On March 27 when Rahul Gandhi held a rally at the same rally where Modi spewed poison that led to bloodshed, the NDFB had declared a bandh.  Certain sources in government have also alleged that the extremist elements in Bodoland People’s Front, an alliance partner of Tarun Gogoi-led state government, are involved in the recent violence in Bodoland Autonomous Territorial Districts. The BPF is also in power in the BTAD. It is also alleged that one such extremist leader of the BPF, Pramila Rani made a provocative and incendiary comment on April 30 threatening local Muslims since they did not vote for her candidate from the Kokrajhar seat Chandan Brahma. Chandan Brahma is currently transport minister in the Gogoi cabinet. Will the Gogoi Government act against this extremist element is also a key question? Muslims are a major constituent of this group that fielded Naba Kumar alias Hira Sarania, a former United Liberation Front of Asom rebel, as an independent candidate in Kokrajhar. Non-Bodos including other tribes have never won this seat despite constituting two-thirds of the population.  The leadership of the BPF has been alleged to have been responsible for instigating cadres to attack non-Bodo villagers, particularly Muslims, because they realized it could lose the Kokrajhar seat. Hundreds of Muslims and other minority groups have fled their villages to safer locations fearing a rerun of the 2012 communal clashes that took the lives of 108 people. According to India Today, indefinite curfew has been clamped in Baska and Kokrajhar districts. The union home ministry has sent 10 companies of central paramilitary forces to Kokrajhar and Baksa.
The Assam government cannot and must not be allowed to escape responsibility for the violence. Key to the accountability that citizens must demand is criminal prosecution of not just those who made incendiary speeches who hail from the national stage and those who belong to possibly the NDFB but if proven even those in alliance with the government in power. Will the Assam government that lays claim to equality and non discrimination (secularism as its creed) have the moral and political courage to take the bull by its horns? We as concientityious citizens must ensure that it does so.
But for the rest, that page 41 of the BJP Manifesto, those contentitious issues that have derailed this great country from cohesive nationbuilding for the past 28 years and more, do we want this country be led by a man incapabable of personal or political restraint and one now has the blood of Kokrajhar on his hands already sullied by 2002?
That’s the crucial question. In Uttar Pradesh that polls crucial seats on May 7 and May 12, BJP has none. Will this spilling of blood by Modi, Amit Shah and others help them reap the bloody vote? If it does, it will not become a victory for democracy but for the cancer of majoritarian communalism that has corroded genuine democracy and deepening its roots, for decades.
On May 8, this carrier of hatred and vitriol will enter Benares and address a rally at Beniabagh in Benares, surrounded by Dalmandi, Nayi Sadak, Harha Sarhai where the family of Bismillah Khan the shenai maestro live) Sheikh Salim Phatak) predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods. Will he also threaten Muslims who are clear in heart and mind that they will not vote for the man associated with 2002?
His other communal speeches have included what he said in Faizabad and elsewhere, threatening the Election Commission in his arrogant desperation. Desperate for the vote at any cost, he also now claims space in the “backward/underprivileged caste”!! For the first time, Modi seeks this caste identity.
Assamese Muslims now live in fear. The Reuters reported that Anwar Islam, a Muslim who had come to buy food in Barama, a town about 30 kilometres from the villages in the Baksa district where the violence erupted on Thursday and Friday, was heard saying, ‘We are scared to live in our village, unless security is provided by the government.’ He said men armed with rifles had come to his village, Masalpur, on bicycles and had then fired indiscriminately and set huts on fire.
As I write this article on Sunday, 32 people have died, all Muslims, as a result of the latest pogrom in the BATD of the state of Assam. The district administration in the adjoining Dhubri district has opened up two relief camps. The death toll is expected to go up with many reported missing.
Targeted massacre of minorities has no place in our time, especially in a state that touts itself as a model of democracy and secularism. Such crimes only strengthen the dark forces on all sides, and often have ramifications that go beyond the sources of the trouble. The Indian government owes it to its people to rein upon such evil fascist forces that have managed to thrive unscathed, often fattened by the local government that is supposed to protect the victims. The Indian Election commission should also look into the matter of hate speech delivered by chauvinist politicians whether such speeches had violated rules during the election time. Simply sending a notice and not pursuing prosecutions under the Representation of People’s Act is in fact allowing the erosion of basic and fundamental values of the Constitution by the forces of majoritarian fascism.

There is little doubt that BJP leaders’ xenophobic speeches have catalysed targeted pogrom in Assam. Justice demands that they be held accountable for their criminal role. Otherwise, all those bloated claims about Indian secularism are mere hogwash and nothing else. The government in power must also be held to account: will it prosecute those who attempted to deny those from Kokrajhar who form a majority of the voters to vote for a candidate of their choice? If the state does not initiate prosecutions, we as citizens must do so…like we did in Gujarat post 2002.
Towards that end…..


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