Ayodhya, Godhra, and the BJP

As I ponder over the horrendous events that have been happening over the last few days in Gujarat, an eerie feeling creeps in as I cannot stop thinking of the events of 1947 and the various horrors and tragedies attached to it. The killing of 58 karsewaks (people serving the cause of temple construction) when four train coaches of Sabarmati express were torched at Godhra , allegedly by the local Muslims, and the subsequent retaliatory violence that has taken the lives of over 400 people, mostly Muslims, is a grim reminder of the fact that religious tolerance can be very fragile in this “secular” nation. The incident at Godhra was despicable by all means and should be condemned. As for the nature of the attack, it was a premeditated one since it was specifically targeted at the karsewaks returning from Ayodhya, but certainly not without provocation.

What really bugs me is the inability of the ruling state and central governments to handle the situation in a timely and in a pro-active manner instead of merely responding to the situation and that too, late. The hooligans of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – a sister concern of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), had a field day carrying out arsons and looting, burning shops and buses, and worst of all killing innocent Muslims – women and children among them– with no semblance of shame.

In a chilling photograph I came across in one of the newspapers, the victim was a very young child, not more than two years old, with bandages wrapped around the body. Could someone from the “hndu brigade” please explain what possible harm could this child have done to anybody. This is just one of the many terrible and disgusting acts committed by scores of sword and trident-wielding Hindus. Note that this does not justify what Muslims did to their “Hindu brethren” on that unfortunate train, an equally disgusting and unjustifiable act.

Who is to blame?

The Godhra incident is not merely a case of communal clashes sparked by inflammatory actions by a minority community, nor is it an isolated one. The malaise lies much deeper. The massacre in Godhra is a manifestation of the mistrust that lies between the Hindus and Muslims and this mistrust is exacerbated by, among others, the politicians who do not miss a single opportunity to extract it to their advantage. The recently held elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh are a case in point. So, who is to blame for all this violence? Is it the “Hindu” mob spearheaded by the VHP goondas (hooligans) that rampaged the towns and cities of Gujarat? Or is it the karsewaks who had reportedly been shouting anti-Muslim slogans near the Godhra locality over the past many days? Or is it the VHP itself who has been carrying hue and cry over the construction of the temple on the disputed territory of Ayodhya and has been mobilizing the general population for this cause? VHP was the one responsible for razing the mosque to ground at this disputed site a decade ago and thus stirring the religious sentiments among the general population. Ever since then, they have been primary responsible for carrying out the acts and activities that have not only caused religious trouble but destroyed the social and “secular” fabric of the country.

The BJP role

This latest violence has been primarily caused by the inability of the ruling BJP to strongly condemn (and ban) the acts of VHP that cause communal tension. Both the VHP and BJP belong to the same parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and therefore share the same ideologies. Many of the BJP leaders are (secretly or openly) VHP supporters. Its time that BJP stop working in cahoots with VHP and its supporters and act in accordance with the law. L.K. Advani, the second most powerful minister in India and who is responsible for the law and order situation in the country, condemned the Godhra incident. Ironically, he was the one who led a rath-yatra (chariot march) to Ayodhya in 1992 that whipped up the communal passions and that ultimately led to the destruction of the mosque and killing of thousands of people. And it is not just the BJP to be blamed, although they are the chief culprits in this instance. The other parties, including the Congress, are equally to blame. By playing the communal card during every election, be it state or the centre, they have continuously polarized the masses on religious basis.

The incident will have international repercussions. How seriously will anyone take India’s claim to be ‘fighting terrorism’ when the government fails to act to prevent mob violence that is killing hundreds?  How seriously will Kashmiris take India’s claim to be a secular country in which Muslims are equals?

Wake-up call

The country cannot afford any more of these senseless acts and its time that the government act responsibly. It cannot bring back the people who lost their lives but can definitely help avoid any further casualties. VHP and its so-called “religious” activities should be banned. One of the positive steps taken by the government is to not allow any karsewaks to accumulate on the disputed territory. Although it is a bit late, the serious military deployment is one other step in the right direction. Further such steps need to be taken. A lesson should be learnt from this incident so that anything like that does not happen again. All parties and communities, including the Muslims, and that includes the mosque leaders who are partially to blame as well, should refrain from voicing any inciting remarks that could further spiral the violence because what is at stake is the country itself.

Finally, in a column in one of the leading newspapers of India, the author suggested that we should stop portraying ourselves as “rigidly secularist” and condemn the Muslims equivocally, the same way we would condemn if the train attackers were Hindus and the victims Muslims. He also takes the case of the slain missionary Graham Staines and how we were sympathetic to the cause of Graham Staines family. Nobody is being sympathetic to the cause of Muslims who carried out the ghastly attack at Godhra and what happened is unacceptable and should be condemned. But had these been Hindus, I bet you the retaliatory violence and carnage would have been minimal or at least effectively and timely controlled by the police or army (read government). And talking of Graham Staines, the man who had been indicted for his murder actually ran for elections to the state government from jail and backed by – guess who? – the VHP. How many others from the minority groups can claim to this honour?

The VHP, with the BJP’s mute consent, is actively turning the carnage of Godhra into something still more murderous.



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