The Meaning of Modi

[NOTE: This piece was written immediately after the carnage that took place in Gujrat in 2002. We thought it appropriate to run it on the 5th anniversary of the massacres.]

After the true purposes of the Nazi party began to reveal themselves in Hitler’s Germany (1933-4), incidentally, purposes aided by the then  Social Democrats, the feature of the Europe subsequently  was the certainty with which a widespread consolidation of opinion and resistance against the Nazis began to happen.  Apart from government machineries in the democratic states apart from the conscious and informed segments of civil society, ordinary citizens in nook and corner across Europe, recognizing the dimensions of what the world was faced with, took upon themselves the world-historical task on behalf of human decency and democracy.

It is a heartening feature of our contemporary times in India that the holocaust in Gujarat, justified not  just by the Sangh Parivar but, most crudely in the Lok Sabha by our social democrat of old vintage, the truly fallen Fernandes, has similarly roused the conscience of the nation. Over the last three weeks or so, notwithstanding complicit governments in Gujarat and at the centre, India’s vibrant media and public opinion across the board, including  scions of the bureaucracy, have come forward and made themselves heard.  If even those allies of the central government who, presumably,hold federal principals dear today demand Modi’s ouster they do so  in the knowledge that their demand is not for the removal of a failed chief minister but of  the ideology that he has pressed into operation in Gujarat, an ideology that threatens to tear apart India as presently constituted. Gujarat of today, they recognize, is no mere local issue but a matter of ‘general interest’ to the body politic on which they wish to register their opinion. The pity is that their sound perceptions should still be thwarted by niggling parochial interests  when the nation had hoped that the fascist threat  would have overridden their petty considerations on behalf of themselves. Their heinous prevarications with the momentous history of our times are rendered particularly tragic now that the BJP-ruled government has conceded the demand for the application of Article 355—a ringing admission that the fascist campaign run by the Parivar over the last two months has had to collapse in the face of the undeniable bloody exposures of Modi’s Gujarat. This is indeed a fine triumph for the resolute opposition put up by the nation across the political spectrum in and outside the houses of parliament.

What are the long-term recognitions that Gujarat has so trenchantly  brought to the fore? One, that no sane Hindu or Muslim wishes in the remotest manner to be identified with the perpetrators either of Ghodra or the rest of Gujarat. There is reason to believe that this is not a case merely of tactical or pusillanimous distancing.The vast majority of Hindus and Muslims recognize with the deepest horror that the method behind the bigoted madness let loose on innocent children, women, and men in Gujarat,(madness which Mr.Fernandes dismisses as routine) far from being the expression of any religious concern is really reminiscent of the ungodly partition days and of the Nazi era in Europe. Indeed, in doing the unspeakable things they have done, the genocidal killers of Gujarat have discredited the religious impulse itself.

What could be a more telling illustration of this than the item in the Bajrang Dal website which stipulates that Gandhi was no Hindu. By implication,  Gandhi’s assasin was. Clearly, the time has come,as rightly stated by Sonia Gandhi,  when every Indian must ensure that the Gandhi/Godse  contention is put to  rest once and  for all.

Secondly, Gujarat has nailed the lie that the RSS, the VHP, the    Bajrang Dal and the BJP are discrete entities. The time is past when, between themselves, they could  play snakes and ladders, hide and seek with ‘majoritarian’ predilections. And, it is a good thing that this exposure finally includes Vajpayee as well, his maudlin self-regard notwithstanding. ‘Good’ people in ‘bad’ outfits do not last that long—and certainly not at the very helm.

It has taken the decade from the Advani rath yatra to the Gujarat holocaust—inseparable events—to finally show  up ‘cultural nationalism’ for what it is, a vicious, divisive, and anti-nationalist programme calculated to consolidate the interests of a minority elite among Hindus by sabotaging the inclusive and pluralist nationalism forged during the anti-colonial struggle. And it is not for nothing that this venomous thesis issues from those who not only had no part in that  historic struggle but who, in overt and covert ways, aided the colonial exploiters. One of the  glaring  metaphors of  their opposition to the genius and purpose of the Gandhi-led anti-colonial struggle was indeed the installation of the black cap against Gandhi’s white khadi.

That the RSS was not to accord allegiance to the tricolour until the conditional lifting of the ban on it in 1949 is, of course, well known.

Further, as a result of Gujarat 2002 the BJP stands in stark opposition to the mainstream secular sanity of the majority community, a fact that  helps to prick the pretense that it represents Hindus.  Whereas the BJP has its own reasons for perking up at being  called a ‘Hindu Nationalist’ party by foreign media, we have our own different reasons for disagreeing with that appellation.

Not having ever crossed  26% of the popular vote at any national election, we  believe the BJP’s claim to speak for Hindus is as mythical as its reinventions of India’s history; and insofar as the party has never had the well-being—political, economic, cultural—of all Indians at heart, not even of all Hindus, its claim to being ‘nationalist’ is equally fake.

Gujarat, in my view, also affords the opportunity to  revisit a contention that was at the centre of much debate during India’s Constitution-making days –that which bears on the character and content of Indian secularism. The concept of sarva dharma sama bhava seems to have been adopted as a guiding principle by the State keeping in mind the rich multiplicity of religious belief and observance in India. Over the years, nonetheless, the State has not succeeded so much in safeguarding the ordinary citizens’ freedom of belief and practice as it has in making the sama bhava  ideal an instrument for appeasing the rather nastily politicized fundamentalist power-structures of ‘religious’ organizations.

Indeed, speaking of ‘appeasement’—so much at the heart of the Hindutva propaganda machine—the only people  who have been appeased in independent India are the economic  fat-cats across denominations and the controlling fundamentalist cliques of obscurantist organizations. It is perhaps time, therefore, learning from the Gujarat experience, that the Indian view of secularism be reworked to mean not that the State regards all religions equally, but that it regards none; to say that the State protects the Constitutionl right to belief, practice, propagation only upto the point that no other Constitutional injunction is thereby subverted, no law violated, and no impingement made on the secular rights of ordinary citizens—such as the right to privacy—which must always supercede all other rights.  Wherever and whenever frenzy seeks to overtake those civic rights, the secular State must perform the true function of dharma, and protect the citizen from the invasions  of  the profane-in-religious-garb.

It is also time  to recognize that the right to ‘propagate’ belief can have little meaning unless accompanied by the right to choose belief—something that only a secular democratic rather than a theocratic State can make available.
The overwhelming public response  to the Gujarat carnage suggests that
the nation is finding a renewed democratic assertion. This assertion must not rest till Modi as a specific political metaphor is set aside. The vast majority that abhors evil must never again fail to come together.

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