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Periscope
Looking at camel through needle’s eye
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Whenever a procession is taken out to mark the Prophet’s (pbuh) birth anniversary, it normally includes a person attired in Arabian robes, mounted on a camel. A camel like a palm tree has come to symbolize Islamic identity. Both are distinctive marks of a sandy landscape. 

The camel may not be endowed with peacock’s feathers or a lion’s coat. But it has certain qualities that should guide us in our hour of distress. It carries huge reserves of energy. It has been designated as the ship of the desert, because it can go on and on without food or water for several days. Its capacity for survival in adverse circumstances should lend us the will to overcome adversities. As a symbol, it may help Muslims in standing up to face the future with confidence. 

The symbolism of needle also is not irrelevant. A needle may help us in making a stitch in time that may save nine in future. It is time for introspection also.

The nation is coming out of a G obsession. Godhra, Gujarat, Goa and Guwahati, the old rivals Gandhi and Godse may not be left out of reckoning. G is the first letter of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s surname also. She shares the gender and politics of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. However, there is a slight difference. Mrs. Indira Gandhi was mother-in-law, as mother of a son. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is a mother-in-law as mother of a daughter. In several ways, they qualify for the title of a popular Star serial, ‘Saas bhi kabhi bahoo thi.’

Another difference is that as long as mother-in-law was alive Mrs. Sonia Gandhi played the role of a traditional dutiful Indian daughter-in-law. She never showed any inclination to cross her dreaded path. If she had political ambitions, she kept them within herself. Perhaps that was the quality that endeared her to Indiraji. At present she is faithfully carrying on the burden shouldered by her mother-in-law, as president of Indian National Congress. There is nothing wrong with her, except her place and creed at the time of birth.

The flames in Gujarat are still alive. I am talking about something, fully aware that I do not have the courage to come to the point. The impotent fury within myself has driven me to the escape route. The catalogue of horrors of Gujarat is no longer a secret. There is nothing that has not been recounted. The reports presented by National Commission for Human Rights, the National Commission for Minorities and other trustworthy organizations are there. Their credentials may not be questioned. 

The number of dead may be eight hundred or two thousand. The estimates of losses of property may be in millions or billions of rupees. My cynical indifference to the figures appalls me. I know the problems, but I have no solutions to offer. 

All of a sudden, I am shorn of the illusions that have sustained me for more than five decades. My faith in the Constitution of the country, in the secular credentials of political parties, lies in shambles. A feeling persistently gnaws at my conscience. There is something rotten in the system. Narendra Modi is one of the symptoms of the disease that afflicts the nation.

The messages from Goa and Guwahati were according to predictable lines. Bharatiya Janata Party re-asserted its commitment to Hindutva in preference to the secular democratic ethics enshrined in the Constitution of the country. At Guwahati, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s verbal crusade against Hindutva brigade is a part of the strategy of her political party to win back at least partially its lost vote bank of minorities.

Muslims never had illusions about Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS), and its front organizations. But a few expected that something good would emerge from the stewardship of Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as leader of National Democratic Alliance. That was the illusion built by Muslim faces of BJP, namely Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Syed Shahnawz Hussein and their fellow travelers. That vision lies shattered after Vajpayee’s speech on April 12 at Goa. BJP continues to suffer from Godhra-fixation. 

Nobody has condoned Godhra arson. The report of the British High Commission to the British Foreign Office does not support the official version of BJP on Godhra, which has approval of the Prime Minister also that Gujarat carnage was a reaction to Godhra arson. According to British diplomats, ‘the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat was pre-planned. If the Sabarmati Express tragedy hadn’t happened, another flashpoint would have been created to justify pre-meditated violence as its reaction.’

The team also observed that in some areas, ‘the police had been specifically instructed not to act while in others, the force was communally polarized and looked the other way without any prompting by political bosses.’ It also says that ‘minority establishments and property were specially targeted by the rioting mobs in most places.’ 

Certainly, British High Commission cannot be accused of appeasement of minorities of India. That is a usual ploy to dismiss any pro-minority statement or evidence. 

It has to be noted that Godhra happened three days after Narendra Modi won the election to Gujarat Assembly. Before that the party was struggling to hold on even to panchayats. BJP is keen to cash the Godhra advantage and wants an election as soon as possible. The BJP fears that as time passes, the violence will start fading from memory, but adverse effects on the economy, business and trade will begin to manifest.

The report of a six-member team drawn from women’s organizations across the country is no less damaging. The team undertook a fact-finding mission to assess how violence had affected minority women. 

According to the report, ‘women in Gujarat were subjected to unimaginable, inhuman and barbaric violence during the recent communal carnage in the state, a majority of victims killed.’ ‘The sexual violence included rape, gang rape, mass rape, stripping and molestation.’

Unfortunately, there has been no adverse comment from Gujarati intelligentsia, who seem to have buried their conscience under the burden of Hindutva.

Congress leaders like Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel and K.M. Munshi, who undertook the reconstruction of Somnath Temple, nursed communalism in Gujarat. It has been used for building anti-Hindu image of medieval Muslim rulers of India. But the aggressive nature of Hindu revivalism surfaced in early eighties. Firstly Dalits were targeted as a part of anti-reservation movement. Dalits for the first time in the history of Gujarat, boycotted a Hindu festival. It was a warning signal to Hindu society. After1981, Hindu revivalism gained ground in Gujarat. In 1981, the mob, which shouted anti-reservation slogans, started shouting anti-Muslim slogans subsequently. In 1985, another anti-reservation movement ravaged Gujarat. But the ruling party had taken care to turn the anti-reservation movement into communal rioting. A senior Congress leader declared at a meeting of Congress workers, "We have succeeded in turning the agitation into a riot. Hence our government is saved." 

The great blow to the secular ethos was delivered when Keka Shastri, the chief architect to Hindu revivalism was elected as president of Gujarat Sahitya Parishad in 1985. Prominent Gujarat writers and Gandhians supported him. It is not surprising that when former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffry was calling for help, no Congress leader came to his rescue. However, at Guwahati, Congress adopted secularism as the ‘battle cry’, but Congress workers of Gujarat have nothing to show in defence of secularism. 

From Goa to Guwahati, we have before us a mountain of words, both, true and false. Real secularism, stifled and suppressed by political opportunism, lies buried somewhere, waiting for rescue and fresh air. To some extent, media has done the rescue act. Shobha De in her weekly column in Times of India, dated April 4, 2002, correctly pointed out, "If the people of India refuse to raise their voices now, perhaps, we shall be forced to hold our tongues forever. Atalji has had his say. It’s time for us to have ours. May the saner mind win."
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