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Communal carnage and political opportunism
By P Radhakrishnan

When the Censure motion on Gujarat was being debated in Parliament, I sent a short write-up for the leader page of a newspaper with which I have had long association. After sitting on it for a couple of days I got a curt email regretting inability to use it. A few days later I sent it to a journal with which also I have had long association. As usual its editor was dilly-dallying, and despite telling me on phone that it is topical, has not published it so far. 

I have no reason to believe that he will do so. What I am driving home is that our secular progressive front especially in the Press have their own vested, commercial interest, and their stakeholders of a different type even in human tragedies, and they cannot be taken for what they pompously write in their newspapers especially in the editorials. For whatever its worth I am reproducing my write-up below, as the Gujarat communal cauldron is not likely to be capped in the near future.

The A.B. Vajpayee led government at the Centre has no reason to feel euphoric about its victory, by 94 votes, on April 30-May 1, over the opposition-sponsored censure motion on Gujarat under rule 184. If anything, what passed for debate in the Lok Sabha, lasting for 17 hours, where among other things, India's Defence Minister, George Fernandes, had the audacity to unabashedly take on and ridicule Indian women at a time of much-needed healing touch and morale boosting for them, and where political parties from both sides used their shouting-brigades to settle political scores, only confirmed again that in the continuing cold-blooded opportunistic political calculations in Parliament, India had long lost its humaneness, constitutional morality and democratic ethos, -- all with much more ominous portents and dark forebodings. 

The first salvo by Union Coal Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, who resigned from the NDA on April 29th, severing his party, Lok Jan Shakti's, ties with the NDA and deciding to vote against it on the censure motion; followed by the acerbic, abusive, and acrimonious attacks by the opposition parties cannot be without such strain on the shameless BJP; and the shrill claim of "Gujarat's pride", which he had already trampled upon brutally and mercilessly, much to the chargin of any self-respecting Gujarati, was not even a fig-leaf to cover a Modi fully stripped and paraded in public gaze, nay global gaze, albeit in a metaphorical sense.

While the stripping may be of some comfort to the opposition, seen retrospectively and prospectively, it is still in the nature of the comfort of the Ostrich; for this stripping by itself may not go far enough to bury the spectre of Hindutva, bury its political mask, the spectre of BJP, or at least rid the BJP of its crime of betraying secularism and pluralism - the cornerstones of Indian democracy, betraying its Constitutional mandate to protect the citizens irrespective of caste, class and creed, and to protect the religious minorities from the tyranny of the Hindu majority, and more importantly, the tyranny of a Hindutva-dominated and Hindutva-obsessed state. If anything, the censure motion would have made it even more emboldened, irrepressible, and irresponsible.

It is in this context that the hypocrisy, double-speak, and rank opportunism of India's political class articulating the perfidies of power needs to be exposed time and again, though the debate did not succeed in doing so. That raises at least seven issues.

One, what made Ram Vilas Paswan a modern Rip van Winkle, to supposedly realise after about two months' stoic silence that the Gujarat carnage was communal violence, that the NDA Government at the Centre of which he was a minister did fail in discharging its duties, that its refusal to rid Gujarat of its canker, Narendra Modi, despite his hideous killer instinct and prevent him from turning into a mass butcher of innocent people, was partisan, and to try and test Gujarat as a laboratory of rabid Hindutva, which, if proved a success as an experiment, could be carried out in other states as well, was subverting India's democratic polity?

Two, despite the hue, cry, hullabaloo, and what have you, why did the opposition take such a long time to decide on a censure motion, though the electronic and print media had lost no opportunity to condemn and expose the violence in all its crude, cruel, grave, gory, and gruesome details?

Three, where are the secular credentials of the so-called secular parties such as (a) the Trinamool Congress, which unanimously decided to vote for the Vajpayee Government "in the interest of stability" - though stability to the Vajpayee Government means facilitating the Sangh Parivar's Nazi-type purge of the minorities, and expanding the BJP's political space for facilitating the further expansion of the cultural space of the Sangh Parivar for creating a Procrustean Hindu rashtra; (b) the National Conference, whose only political consideration for its decision to abstain from voting was facing assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir later this year; (c) the Indian National Lok Dal, which is avowedly for secularism and condemns the communal carnage in Gujarat but still supports the NDA Government for want of any "substitute" to Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee; (d) the DMK, which justified its support to the censure motion on the ground that it is part of the NDA, with Karunanidhi "declaring" at the same time in his inimitable double-speak that it would not allow even a slight deviation by the NDA from the national agenda for governance, which states that the interests of the minorities will be protected; and (e) the AIADMK, now in power in Tamil Nadu, with a Chief Minister who, as in the nursery rhyme, has for long been turning round and round without as yet falling giddy on the ground, though it had nothing to lose but a lot to gain, especially its long-lost secular credentials, by voting against the NDA Government 

Four, while the stand taken by the Telugu Desam Party of not aligning with the opposition which according to Chandrababu Naidu has been highly inconsistent and opportunistic, and walking out of Parliament without voting on the censure motion on the ground that the Prime Minister's response was not satisfactory, may prima facie make sense, one might ask by clinging to the BJP on the ground that it is still putting "pressure" on the BJP, has the TDP not fouled its own nest.

Five, apart from verbal jugglery, all the political parties which participated in the debate wallow in their own political and cultural quagmire of half-truths, untruths, and contradictory assertions, in the process failing to set right a secular, pluralist democratic polity, which is now in disarray and under systematic subversion.

Six, why did the NDA Convener and Defence Minister, George Fernandes take such a long time to lead his so-called "peace march", that too without any positive outcome? Was it not hypocrisy at its worst? Seven, what was the cosmic compulsion of A.B. Vajpayee for his stolid refusal to dislodge Narendra Modi from Hindutva's hotbed and put an end to the unabated communal carnage in Gujarat?

When Vajpayee visited Gujarat, he probably wept on a number of shoulders including Modi's and asked him and others of similar killer instinct how will he show his face abroad without shame. Despite this, his refusal to unseat Modi showed him in his true colours. Among the few sane and lucid voices in the Lok Sabha the most impressive was probably that of Omar Abdullah, who resigned from Vajpayee's Ministry, and spoke with much erudition and earnestness. In the process he drove home the fact that we have lost the moral high ground that we occupied because of our track record of democracy and secularism, we are now on the backfoot, having to explain and defend ourselves all the time; it was possible that a "foreign hand" was behind the carnage in Godhra, but the aftermath was worse; by creating a vicious communal divide, we had played directly into the hands of such people, and the General [Musharraf] must be laughing.

While Murli Manohar Joshi is busy rewriting Indian history and culture to suit his obscurantism and superstitions, by a single act Vajpayee could have not only rewritten Indian history and culture, but more importantly also gone down in history, if not with it. That is, by removing Narendra Modi from power and, as Prime Minister of India, initiating penal action against him and others in the lunatic fringe of the Sangh Parivar for a Nuremberg type trial; for what has been happening in Gujarat for the past two months is unprecedented and, if anything, similar to and even worse than what happened in Nazi Germany. Now that Vajpayee has proved that he is not any better than Modi, who should be tried first, by whom, and how remains a larger issue.

Prof. Radhakrishnan teaches in the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.
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