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The Chieftain State of Gujarat






When, after the massacre of Muslims in 2002, the electorate in Gujarat voted the butcher of Gandhinagar—the Capital city of Gujarat; but think of the enormous irony of that oxymoron—back to power, they effectively declared their secession from the Republic of India. If the founding principles of the Republic are "secularism" and "democracy," Modi’s victorious constituency used the latter to spit at the former.

Just as the Germans had done in 1933—use democracy to install dictatorship.

Always to remember when we speak of Gujaratis that nearly a half of the electorate voted against him as well. Such are the ways in which franchise makes or unmakes, especially in an electoral system where all you need to do is to first pass the post. Much of the time, indeed, in such a dispensation it is the minority that rules the majority! Yet it is all we have for now.

Employing a diabolical double-speak, Modi berated the secularists for feeding off the Muslim "vote-bank" while simultaneously consolidating first a Hindutva constituency and then a regional/Gujarati one.

Effectively, Gujarat has come to be reconstructed as an alterity to the Indian nation-state. Not Kashmir, but Modi-led Gujarat.

And not just as a rhetorical flourish.

Operating as the endorsed Chieftan of a triumphalist tribe, the Modi "government"—for want of another word—has, since that ineffaceable butchery in 2002—sought, every single step of the way to shield the Hindutva satraps (who were knee-deep in blood at the behest of the Chieftan) from the operations of the law, and brazenly to bring back into positions of authority publicly implicated high-ranking police officers, and atleast one judge, name of Mehta, who was spoken of by the ripper- in- chief, Babu Bajrangi, in a sting tape as the judge that Modi brought back to secure the self-confessed ripper from the hangman, after two other judges had honourably refused to do the dirty work of granting him bail. Indeed the same "Justice" Mehta has now been drafted as part of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that the Supreme Court of India has assigned to look into the merit of some cases that are asking to be opened and reinvestigated!

As a result, lawyers working for the victims of the massacre have taken the only recourse of opting out of the proceedings in protest against the inclusion of Mehta and challenging his inclusion in the Supreme Court.

Among these worthies who have been recalled not just to life but to brazen authority is the police officer, Mathur, reinstated as the Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad.

And what could be a more ringing declaration of separate nationhood on behalf of the Chieftan state of Gujarat than that this same Mathur should now have instituted a charge of "sedition and treason" against the editor of the local edition of the Times of India (by any reckoning, one of the country’s most widely read and puissant corporate English Dailies) for a story it did on him.

It must be understood that the charge of "sedition" may be brought against a citizen of the Republic only by the highest political/constitutional authority of the land, and only for actions provenly prejudicial to the security of the state. In post-independent India, such charge has been brought, as far as we can ascertain, only against some officers in the military for allegedly leaking Intelligence to the "enemy."

Clearly, therefore, Mathur could not have been the sanctioning brain/authority behind such a charge. By no stretch even of the fascist imagination could a police commissioner be deemed the equivalent of the State. The defiance and the daring must belong to the Chiefton whose dirty work he has been brought back to do. Ergo, "sedition" not against India, but against " Modiland." Since Modi alone may say with Louis xiv of old, "I am the State."

And basis for the charge?

True to the ethics and oath of the Fourth Estate, the TOI story drew attention to evidence that this Mathur has had links with the criminal underworld, and thus cannot be deemed eligible for the responsibility bestowed upon him by his obliging Chieftan.

As reported in The Hindu of June 2, ’08, the basis of the TOI story on Mathur’s antecedents was a statement given by an underworld denizen that the Commissioner was at one time on the "Don’s payroll."

Whereas Mathur may well have instituted a case of libel/defamation against the TOI, remarkably the case filed accuses the newspaper editor of "sedition and treason" against the state.

Not even during the dark days of the state of Internal Emergency imposed by the then Indira Gandhi government (1975-76) was, to the best of our knowledge, any member/organ of the Fourth Estate charged with "sedition and treason."

Indeed, two infamous instances that come to mind both pertain to the days of colonial rule.

I refer to the charge of "sedition" brought against Lokmanya Tilak and then Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in both cases for writing articles calculated to cause "disaffection" against the "legitimate government of the day." A charge which both those honourable men proudly acknowledged.

In Gujarat of our day, however, "sedition" has come to mean any word or act that contradicts the myth of "good governance" cheekily floated by Modi and gladly bought by his constituency, or any attempt to use public institutions to hold the Modi government to account.

Only two years ago, the editor of Surat Samna, Manoj Shinde was charged under section 124 A ("sedition") for commenting on the ineptitude of the authorities in handling the waters of the Ukai dam, which caused flooding in the city of Surat. The charge spelt out was that Shinde had instigated people against a duly elected government! (The Hindu, 30/08/2006).

Animal Farm? 1984? Take your pick.

And to think that Orwell imagined that totalitarian habits of mind existed only in "totalitarian" states. Consider in passing that a Tory Member of Parliament in Britain, name of David Davis, has resigned his membership following the adoption of the new draconian law that will allow the state there to hold in custody anyone for 42 days without trial. The vote may have passed by a majority of just nine, but many in Britain are alarmed that with a plethora of draconian laws in place, including the world’s largest data base of citizens’s DNA , an I-Card dispensation, and CCTV cameras reaching literally into bedrooms, liberty in that mother of democracies is losing out to the State. David Davis now goes into a bye-election of his choosing to test how Britains feel on these issues. We, on behalf of those who wish the world to be free, also wish him luck.

Alas, no such prospects in Gujarat.

II

You can be sure that nothing that has been said thus far qualifies as hyperbole. The Gujarat Chiefton has now ventured a bolder leap forward in announcing that his realm, after all, may remain autonomous of the Union and the Constitutional regime of laws that govern its operations.

He has dared the Indian government at the Centre to withhold grants to his state, and be prepared to suffer the loss of tax revenues due to it from Gujarat. Any student of india’s pre-Independence history will recognize that such indeed used to be the nature of hostile discourse among the then autonomous Princely States and Subbas and between them and any central authority that might exist for the time being.

As has been rightly pointed out by some political and constitutional spokespersons, if there be any smell of "sedition" in the air, this must be it. So what does anybody do ?

III

The central government of course can always take recourse to the provisions of article 356 of the Constitution, declare the Modi government in violation of Constitutional governance, and lawfully sack it.

This was something that many well-wishers of the Republic would have gladly endorsed had such a recourse been taken to at the time of the Modi-endorsed Gujarat massacres.

But ofcourse with a friendly NDA regime, led by Modi’s own BJP, then in power in Delhi, nothing could have been farther from expectation. Famously, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minister, went the length of recommending that Modi in Gujarat follow Raj Dharam, i.e. the ethics of good rule. It was a good laugh, streaked in many places with the blood of innocents.

Since that time the politics of the country has taken several new twists, but chiefly a lurch to the right in which Modi’s BJP and the Congress party are equally complicit.

The Congress particularly has been rendered weak by a string of electoral losses especially to the BJP, as the country’s middle sections, in town and country, viewing market ‘reforms’ with a gluttonous eye, draw away from the Congress for initiating a string of social programmes directed at the welfare of the minorities, Muslims in particular, and other weaker sections of Indians.

The proverbial idealism of the young— especially those that have any saleable value—directs itself increasingly and rather exclusively to what "packages" the corporates have on offer, or what opportunities are to be exploited in the western world. Those that can play cricket look to the IPL (Indian Premier League in which each side plays just a quick-fire twenty overs each against enormous sums of money paid) as the possible high point of a successful life. Conversely, many young students who fail their examinations or do not do to "expectations" commit suicide, thinking that life can have no success to offer.

Cannily, Modi has during the last assembly elections especially (2007) cast himself as the messiah of "development", never mind that such development leaves the bulk of Gujaratis as out of reckoning as ever. For those that wield social and economic clout, the admixture of lucre and Hindu pride—visible everywhere in the shape of a sock-in-the-eye display of religiosity, is the winning formula, one that seems to promise salvation both here and in the hereafter. All mightily bolstered by the tribe of NRIs abroad (some 40% of the American ones are Gujaratis) who see this fusing of money and mantra as the way to hegemonise all of the Indian middle classes generally.

No time then would seem more inappropriate/inauspicious for the Centre than now to take recourse to dismissing the Modi government.

IV

If Gujarat is to be reintegrated with the Republic there is only but one way to go: the hard way.

Given that the Congress, the main political opposition in Gujarat, has been effectively reduced to impotence as the constituency for secular politics has shrunk, in no small measure owing to the complicity of the Congress itself, and to the extent that the Congress has long forgotten the culture of mass mobilization through effective organization on the ground and sweat in the doing, there is little to be looked for there as of now.

That fact indeed brings into sharp and admirable focus the toils of those in Gujarat who have through these six years sought on the basis of relentless home work and fearless conviction to bring the Modi dispensation to book—civil society groups and a configuration of socially sensitive, journalists, artists and other intellectuals for the most part. Aided, no doubt, by the highest court in the land.

Working through the Supreme Court and the media—some sections of it—their achievements in unraveling the horrendous excesses and transgressions of Modi-rule constitute the high-watermark of the history of human rights struggles of the last decade or so.

Yet, this is only a resource; the antidote to the misuse of democratic franchise and legitimacy by Modi can only lie in mounting a more cognizant polity in and outside Gujarat.

Unless, beginning now, for a whole year or more, an integration and consolidation of media power, social service resources, labour power, and party- political rethinks happen, such as are able to produce a questioning centre-left transformation on the ground on the concrete issues of livelihood and equity, and so long as Modi remains at the helm of the BJP in Gujarat, the secession of the state from the Repubnlic will only deepen.

Gujarat, after all, has come to represent for the RSS the possibility that the more the Congress goes into somnambulant and aristocratic dotage, the more unable it is to distinguish itself from the ideological contours of the BJP, the more reluctant it remains to ally with the Left in launching mobilization against fascist formations without thought to party constituencies, the more Hindutva fascism can forge ahead towards reconstituting India into an erstwhile Nepal—a Hindu Rashtra (Theocratic Hindu State). Recall that it has been in the past the position of the RSS that the best thing to happen to Bharat would be for the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal to take the country into an amalgamated oneness!

V

For now, the charge of "sedition" leveled against the TOI in Gujarat—and another case under section 153 (A) (B) of the IPC—causing schism among communities– against the well-known sociologist, Ashish Nandy, for an article he wrote, also in the TOI bemoaning the character of the middle class with respect to Gujarat, an experience that might help this particular intellectual to rethink some of his favourable consideration of Hindu religious identity and distaste for left politics—do provide an opportunity for wide sections of the polity to launch a campaign for the restoration of secularism and fundamental freedoms in Modi’s Gujarat.

It is a circumstance that could assist media corporates who have habitually held up Modi as the ideal future Indian hero (for three understated reasons, it might be noted: his friendliness to big business, his rabid hatred of the Left, and his ability to galvanise Hindu-communal politics to ward off both labour consolidation and keep potential "terrorists" in fear and trembling, leaving the local terrorisers under his command to do their work unfettered) to cry off a bit, and suggest to Modi that secession on his behalf is as unacceptable as anywhere else in the country, if not more. Having now added draconian daring to fundamentalist/communalist politics, the media ought to make it known that Modi may not after all be such a darling.

After all, for many of them it is still in fashion to revile the late Indira Gandhi for her "authoritarianism"; who more so, she or Modi? She did not cry "sedition" even when the draconian Emergency regime could have legally allowed her to do so; he it seems can do it in broad daylight and with fearless impunity against those whose job it is to keep democracy and the rule of law in place.

If Modi can haul up something like the TOI with a charge of "sedition", pray who is safe?

VI

Note that in Maharashtra one of the most respected and fair-minded senior journalists, editor of Loksatta, Kumar Ketkar, was attacked in the privacy of his home by fascist hordes who did not like his advice to the local government that, rather than spend hundreds of crores on erecting a statue of Shivaji somewhere in the sea, the moneys could be better spent on relieving misery among the people.

Subsequently, the Editors’ Guild of India took up the issue and made out a decent statement.

Yet, why the "sedition" charge leveled against the TOI in Gujarat seems a rather muted item is tough to understand. It is ofcourse possible that unbeknown to this writer some strong things are afoot.

One certainly hopes so; and afoot in many places and conclaves.

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badri.raina@gmail.com

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