September 24, 2020
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Respected Atalji....

An open letter to the prime minister from a former union minister who resigned from BSP today in protest against its decision to form a govt. with BJP in UP.

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Respected Atalji....

I am writing this letter after going through your reported speech in Goa on April 13, 2002. I am thankful to you for having enlightened me on certain basic issues relating to my rights and duties as a child (citizen) of India.

In your speech while referring to Muslims and Christians you have very generously informed that, "We have allowed them to do their prayers and follow their religion. No one should teach us about secularism." Since you as prime minister are bound by the oath of Constitution this must be a reference to the relevant provisions therein.

The right of freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation is part of the fundamental rights of the Constitution of India which people of India have given to themselves through their elected representatives. "We" in the Constitution means people of India belonging to all religious denominations, sects and regions.

When you assert that "We have allowed them to do their prayers…" will you please spell out more clearly who are these "We" and if Muslims and Christians are not included in this "We" where do they stand as far as the indivisible character of Indian nation is concerned.

May I refer to a Supreme Court ruling wherein it has been held that "Fundamental rights are modern name for what have been traditionally known as natural rights… they are primordial rights necessary for the development of human personality. They are the rights which enable a man to chalk out his own life in the manner he likes best."

In effect what the highest court has held is that fundamental rights are not an invention but recognition of the natural rights of man which are inalienable and are available not due to the grace of some powers that be.

This line of reasoning is totally in consonance with ancient Indian philosophical thought. An ancient Upnashic text says that men and women in India belong to different communities, worship different gods and practise different rites and customs:

Bharatesu Striyah Purso Nanavarnah Prakirtitah Nanadevarcane Yuktah Nanakarmani Kurvate.

Since you are committed not only to uphold the law of land but are also known for your devotion to the ancient glorious traditions of India, I would like to draw your attention to the shloka inscribed on the main gate of the Central Hall of Parliament which reads thus:

Ayam Nij Paroveti Ganna Laghuchetsam Udar Chartianamtu Vasudaiv Kutumbkam.

("This is mine that is another’s, so think the men of small vision. To the man of broad vision, however, the whole world is a family.")

Sir, I am not just taking exception to your statement which seeks to categorise people of India as "we" and "they", but in 1986, when similar language was spoken by some of my co-religionists emphasising religion-based identity in public life, I had strongly protested and had the privilege of receiving words of support from you.

During the course of your speech you said, "Had the Sabarmati Express not been torched and so many people including women and children killed in the Gujarat mayhem would have been avoided." You further said that the government and intelligence agencies are trying to find out who was responsible, yet you asserted that people should not forget who torched the train and who started this cycle of violence.

Sir, your statement is absolutely baffling. On the one hand, you admit that even after seven weeks the intelligence and police have not been able to establish the responsibility for the heinous crime committed against innocent civilians travelling in the train, and simultaneously you are asking people not to forget who torched the train at Godhra.

I do not know whom you are pointing at, but I wonder if you are suggesting that justice can be done by punishing innocent persons of a particular community for the crimes committed by some other persons belonging to the same community.

If that is the new morality of justice then why should this process of punishment remain confined to the state of Gujarat? Why shouldn’t the same punishment be not meted out to people like me who live in the secure environs of Delhi or other parts of the country?

If what has happened in Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat was a reaction to Godhra, then why did cities like Ratlam — which are at much lesser physical distance from Godhra but with a different political dispensation — not react in the same manner?

Sir, the episode of Gujarat is tragic in more than one sense. It has added new chapters of barbarism — the killing of innocent civilians, the rape and disgrace of women and children — crimes committed with active connivance of the state administration and police. The situation can be best described in the words of Harsh Mander, who resigned from the IAS after the Gujarat carnage "…something like a surgeon murdering his patient".

Before your Goa speech you had described the Gujarat violence as a blot on the nation and shameful. The human misery portrayed in the photographs of victims which are available on many websites are only compounding that feeling. Your speech in Goa has come like a bolt from the blue not only to the survivors of the mayhem but to all those who looked towards you with hope and belief.

During the last seven weeks, despite the colossal human tragedy, the victims and others had not lost hope. They understood your compulsions and thought that if nothing else they can at least cry on your shoulder. Adarniya Atalji, I am saying this with great sorrow that your speech in Goa has deprived them even that comfort and today they find all the doors closed.

I need not tell you that the democratic and secular system sustain on public faith which today stands totally eroded. Who can understand this better than a man who is not only a politician and prime minister but a sensitive poet as well? If not to the leader of BJP, or to the prime minister of India, can I appeal to the sensitive heart of a poet to realise the gravity of human suffering and do something immediately to restore public faith and let people know that your shoulder is still available to those who have been wronged for no fault of theirs?

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