The disdain with which leading lights of the anti-corruption movement --Mallika Sarabhai, Medha Patkar, Kavita Srivastava et al--are treating Anna Hazare, by publicly chastising him for a little statement he made praising Narendra Modi’s rural development work in Gujarat, shows that many of those who claim to be “civil society representatives” do not believe in elementary norms of civility even towards their own leaders. They are threatening to dislodge him from the leadership role, if he does not follow their dictates, and speak the script they write for him. This clearly indicates that the poor old man was only being used as a convenient symbol that can be discarded as arbitrarily as he was chosen to lead the “movement”.
Human rights activists can retain their credibility only as long as they remain steadfastly non-partisan. A murderer is a murderer, whether he/she takes life in the name of “proletarian struggle” or in the name of Hindutva. To the person killed, it matters little whether the killing brigades that came to roast him alive belong to a self professed “secular” party or they are motivated by communal frenzy, whether the murderous mob was shouting Lal Salaam, Har Har Mahadev or “National Unity” as did the mobs that massacred over 3000 Sikhs in north India following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, the secular brigade shows a consistent soft corner for those who kill under the Maoist or communist banner as well as those who verbally profess secularism.
Narendra Modi’s acts of commission and omission during the 2002 riots deserve the strongest of condemnation. Those crimes need to be impartially investigated and the guilty appropriately punished. Just as we are proud that our democratic system ensured a fair trial even for a publicly identified ISI- inspired terrorist like Kasab, so also we should let the courts take Modi’s trial to its logical conclusion, especially since the Supreme Court is directly monitoring the trial. I gladly join my “secular” friends when they advocate peace moves with Pakistan or with the Maoists both of who are causing a lot of death and destruction due to their ideological perversions. But I find it hard to make sense of their aversion to making peace with Gujaratis who vote Modi to power.
Those who ask for Modi’s head would do well to remember that hordes of Congressmen in Gujarat gleefully joined BJP, VHP goons who went around torching homes and massacring innocent people. None of them reached to save Congress leader and former MP Ehsan Jafri when he appealed to his party men for help. That is why on her first post- riots visit to Ahmedabad, Sonia Gandhi avoided visiting Jafri’s home to offer condolences to his widow. Discerning readers will also remember that in another high profile case, Best Bakery, the name of Congress Councillor Chandrakant Srivastav also figured along with his cousin BJP MLA Madhu Srivastav.
Gujarat witnessed innumerable caste and communal riots under Congress rule through the 1960s, 70s 80s and 1990s. That is what destroyed its credibility in the state and prepared the ground for BJP victory.The overall track record of the Congress Party in this matter is no better, if not much worse, than that of the BJP. In addition to 1984 massacre of the Sikhs in north India, Congress party instigated and masterminded dozens of major riots through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. None of the killers of politically engineered riots in Meerut, Malliana, Bhiwandi, Bhagalpur, Hyderabad,. Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat and scores of other mass massacres orchestrated by the Congress party ever got punished.
Congress also injected terrorism into Punjab by their covert support of Bhindranwale’s Khalistani brigades in order to wrest control of the SGPC that controls well endowed and influential gurudwaras. It did incalculable harm to the Srilankan Tamils by creating a Frankenstein's monster like the LTTE to become their key representative. The secessionist movement in Kashmir owes its origins and draws sustenance from Congress party’s penchant for rigging elections to install puppet chief ministers.
And yet, no one in their good sense would declare that the Congress Party is nothing more than a bunch of murderers. Even those of us who genuinely want to see the guilty among Congressmen and women pay for their crimes and cynical manipulation of the governance machinery for partisan ends, do recognize that there is a lot more to this premier national party than a legacy of mayhem and massacres. There are times when the Congress party has actually lived up to the highest values of Indian democracy and some of our best contemporary politicians have emerged out of the Congress fold.
Due to their ideological predilections and cosy relationship with the Congress High Command, most of those attacking Hazare have a history of acting as the fighting sword of the Congress party against Modi and BJP. But to declare Hazare a political untouchable because he is not as ideologically committed to their brand of secularism is to display deadly arrogance and self righteousness.
One earns the moral right to criticize only when one has the moral courage to acknowledge the positive aspects or good deeds of those we condemn for specific evil actions. The pathological hatred of Modi displayed by a section of human rights activists shows they are playing partisan politics under the garb of defending human rights of minorities. One should be able to condemn Modi for his role in the 2002 massacre and point to his many other blind spots and lapses, without feeling the need to deny his positive role in making Gujarat lead the country in many vital areas from assured power supply to all villages, measures for bringing down the maternal mortality rate by providing financial and other support for safe deliveries to poor women, 9.8% growth rate in agriculture while the rest of the country remains stuck to 2-3% growth. It is one of the few states where farmers at large are not at war with industry, where delivery mechanisms for government services have improved dramatically. Bibek Debroy was forced to resign his job as the Director of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies in 2003 for being the co- author of a professionally conducted survey which gave Gujarat a second rank in the Index for Economic Freedom. Even in the Human Development Index Report prepared by the Planning Commission, Gujarat is number 5 in India. It is a surprise Montek Singh has not his job on that account.
The humiliation heaped upon Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom of Deoband, for stating that the development agenda of Modi is benefiting Muslims in equal measure and that that Modi has put behind the politics of communal polarization shows that the “secular” gang has acquired a deep vested interest in promoting siege mentality among Muslims. It is ironical that many of our secular NGOs actually led an international campaign to have the US and other governments to deny Modi a visa to enter the US. Using the might of George Bush to humiliate a democratically elected chief minister of their own country does not speak well of their democratic credentials. Or is it their case that only US can help fix our evil politicians, as they did in Iraq, and now in Libya? It is precisely this brazen partisanship which has made NGOs a suspect entity. It also enabled the BJP to discredit the policies of Congress and left parties towards religious minorities as evidence of “pseudo secularism” and allowed BJP to garner widespread emotional support base among the middle classes. Unfortunately, BJP has not yet given us a taste of “genuine secularism” or something more “desi” and better than that.
The man they condemn as the “maut ka saudagar” seems to have recognized his folly in using the politics of communal riots and polarization. He has not let another riot take place in Gujarat, no matter what the “provocation.” In the October 2010 municipal elections, BJP fielded 159 Muslim candidates for 53 Nagar Parishads out of which 72 won. In the February 2011 Nagar Parishads elections, BJP fielded 79 Muslim candidates, out of which 27 won. Democracy with its one- person, one- vote principle has tamed Narendra Modi. But those who don’t need to get endorsement for their political posturing from citizens on whose behalf they speak, are not amenable to such self correcting mechanisms. The flag bearers of secularism need to outgrow their pathological obsession with Modi and work to bridge communal divides rather than sharpen it further. By overstating their case, they are undermining their own credibility and making Modi appear as a victim of a systematic witch hunt.
The campaigners for Lokpal Bill have come to grief by setting a curious certification process for handpicking an “honest” Lokpal, the perfect Supercop-Super Prosecutor cum Super judge. The secular lobby has laid down an equally absurd “certification” for The Honest Secularist”—namely a pathological, never ending and all pervasive hatred for Modi at every occasion. They are outraged at the fact that the mass base of this movement has been in large part provided by people like Baba Ramdev and Shri Shri Ravishankar and that saffron flags outnumbered red flags. People with diverse causes-- from cow protection, to saving our rivers from becoming sewers to consumer rights activists, from those who want socialism to those who want an open, globalized economy-- gravitated to Jantar Mantar. There were many more people calling for Bharat Mata ki Jai than shouting Lal Salaam or other leftist slogans. Among that crowd more people hold Swami Vivekanand, Lokmanya Tilak, Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi in reverence, than Chairman Mao, Lenin or Marx.
Those who claim to be “civil society representatives” better make peace with the fact that what they witnessed at Jantar Mantar was a small slice of India’s people and their diverse concerns. If they cannot stomach even this small live sample of civil society, they cannot claim to be “civil society” representatives. History is witness to the fact that all those who arrogate to themselves the right to become the ultimate certifiers of political morality or national interest are often more dangerous than those they oppose and wish to dislodge. McCarthyism was born out of precisely this mindset.The task of cleansing our polity of crime and corruption is not a battle between demons and angels. It requires taking the entire spectrum of political opinion on board, building a widespread consensus for comprehensive institutional reform and establishing norms for public morality. It needs careful efforts to avoid vesting authoritarian power in any person or office. Most of all it requires sensitive tuning to the problems, opinions, needs and aspirations of our diverse people, including those who support Maoists or vote for Modi. Such a task cannot be done by those who are inspired by hatred or harbour blind prejudice and partisan agendas. It is best done by people of compassion, empathy, humility and deep caring, people who remain fair and non partisan even when dealing with those they hate.
Madhu Purnima Kishwar is Founder Editor, Manushi and Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. A shorter version of this article was published in the Times of India today