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Organised ambivalence

Publication Date : 22-02-2013


Indians like political parties that take a stand, and do not have much respect for those who take all kinds of positions without really sticking to any. When our political leaders can arrange for British Prime Minister David Cameron to visit Jallianwala Bagh and express regret, why can they not apologise for the many genocides that they have presided over since Independence

The Congress has not lost its penchant for competitive politics despite being beaten at the game over and over again. Every now and again, and particularly before Assembly or Lok Sabha elections, it pits itself against the BJP (Indian People's Party) in a bid to consolidate votes.

And every single time it finds itself at the losing end, with the politics of the country veering more and more towards the right in the process.

Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde let out the cat that many of us suspected was in the bag, to lash out at what he described rather deliberately as Hindu terrorism.

The Congress--it must be pointed out at this stage--believes that secularism can be limited to rhetoric and that every now and again a statement of this kind will help it regain the trust and confidence of secularists and minorities without really committing it to policies that may alienate others. But this time as before, the Congress beat a hasty retreat when confronted by an aggressive BJP, with Shinde doing irreparable damage to secularism per se with his apology and decision to withdraw his ‘controversial’ statement altogether.

This is a significant controversy as one, Shinde is not a novice in politics and his statement about “Hindu terror” was clearly offensive in that terrorism cannot be Muslim or Hindu. So by describing it as such, the home minister was clearly trying to earn some brownie points and project himself as a ‘secularist’. This boomeranged, as he possibly knew it would, and the BJP went for the jugular leading to Shinde’s admission of “regret” on Parliament session eve as well as the clarification: “There is no basis for suggesting that terror can be linked to organisations mentioned in my brief speech in Jaipur.”

So the questions that remain unanswered are a) why did the home minister of India make such a statement, on what basis, and with what facts in hand? b) on what basis did he withdraw it? c) what about the evidence linking several Hindutva organisations to terror attacks, or are we to believe that in the home minister’s view, such evidence does not really exist? And regardless of whether the responses are in the affirmative or not, the fact remains that Shinde is clearly not a very responsible minister, as his flip-flop on what is a very serious issue demonstrates. He should be held accountable by the very government he serves.

But his ambivalence has helped the BJP which has been able to push back the Congress to corner more space for right-wing forces and arguments. This has remained the pattern for decades now, becoming more impossible to miss since the 1990s. The Congress party virtually joined the BJP in sealing the fate of the Babari mosque by allowing the shilanyas, giving the call for Ram Rajya and eventually standing by while the old structure was brought down dome by dome.

The BJP gained tremendously with the Congress being eventually reduced to a token presence in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Maharashtra, the Congress-led government has looked the other way while its police joined right-wing forces to attack minorities; has targeted and arrested Muslim youth all over the state; and in short, has not behaved very differently from the right-wing forces it pretends to oppose.

Indians like political parties that take a stand, and do not have much respect for those who take all kinds of positions without really sticking to any. The BJP is clear about its ideology, the regional parties know who they represent and where their political interests lie, but the Congress has still not been able to make up its mind on whether it stands for secularism or is more at home in a communal environment.

A responsible leader from a third party told this columnist the other day that the Congress party was promoting Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the hope that the spectre of Modi-as-PM in the 2014 general election would swing the minority and secular votes towards Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders. It is true that the Congress’ discomfiture with Modi whether in Gujarat or in other parts of the country is mostly for appearance’s sake, with industry bigwigs currently supporting both Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Congressmen insist that this will work to their advantage, but as Indians have seen over and over again, the Congress’ brand of competitive politics rarely serves its interests, and usually ends up helping the BJP at the hustings.

On a related aside, UK Prime Minister David Cameron was at Jallianwala Bagh recently to express regret, but not really apologise, for the tragedy that still carries emotional connotations for Indians.

Looking at the photographs of the contrite British PM one could not help but wonder why Indian leaders had not apologised for the many genocides that they had presided over since Independence. Why did Indira Gandhi not apologise to the country from the ramparts of the Red Fort for Emergency and for gross violation of human rights committed during the period? Why did Rajiv Gandhi not visit every single Sikh house that had lost members to the rioting masterminded by Congress leaders? Why did Narendra Modi--who boasts of travelling to all parts of Gujarat--not stop at the doors of Muslim families and apologise to them for the murder of thousands of Muslims on his watch? And given the scale of the crime, apologies will have to be accompanied by compensation, rehabilitation, justice--all impossible words in the political dictionary.

So one knows why there has been this silence, and while we arrange for Cameron to visit Jallianwala Bagh to express regret, we are silent when it comes to our own. The list of political offenders is so long that every single leader who has been or is in power in the states or at the Centre should be ideally spending all of their time apologising for the crimes against Indians committed on their watch.

The writer is consulting editor of the The Statesman.


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