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Calling the bluff

When communal elements were getting really dangerous, Jawaharlal Nehru stepped forward to take matters in hand. He made sure that members of the Hindu Mahasabha did not go unpunished. He very demonstrably had them detained and put behind bars, says Dipankar Gupta

 

Ayodhya, on March 15, turned out to be an anti-climax simply because people expected that the kar sevaks were really a determined and committed bunch. I have always believed that if these sectarians were to be challenged, and their bluff called, they would immediately withdraw. I have historical evidence to back my claim, though sadly it is a little dated. After the Partition, the population of Delhi doubled in a matter of months and kept growing phenomenally.

  It must have been noticed by now, but I will say it anyway: there is a great difference between killing for a cause and dying for one. Religious sectarians in India are always ready to kill for a cause, but will never die for one. It should also be remembered that though many Hindus died for the cause of nationalism, independence and for glory of their land, there is not a worthwhile example of a Hindu who became a martyr for the cause of Hinduism. In every other world-religion there are martyrs, and these martyrs are remembered by the faithful for giving substance and body to their respective religions. There is no such tradition in Hinduism. Rana Pratap, Rani Laxmibai, Lala Lajpat Rai did not die for Hinduism, though they were all Hindus, after a fashion.

When the chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, Ramchandra Paramhans, said that he would rather die than not start building the temple on the disputed site, many in the government and elsewhere got really worried. They should not have been so deeply agitated, for the recent record of Hindu chauvinists does not give any reason to believe that any one of them would die for a cause. These Hindu chauvinists are paper tigers and only excel at hitting out at minorities, and that too with government support. Wherever they have had unfriendly governments, as in West Bengal, these sectarians, notwithstanding their hellfire and brimstone rhetoric, have behaved themselves.

The appropriate response then to sectarians of all stripes is simply to implement the law and to hold them responsible every time they break it. To discuss, at such times, historical veracity or the fine points of cultural interpretation will only encourage these sectarians. They then begin to feel self- righteous and also come through as bearers of intellectual capital. To talk to sectarians about culture, religion, art and so on, is, therefore, counter-productive. When anyone breaks the law the person should be brought to book. Where is the need to discuss? If the government feels there is an overwhelming reason to hold protracted talks with these people, and not book them under grievous charges, then please change the law and along with that our Constitution.

It can be proved beyond doubt, by taking several instances of rioting, that in all cases the culprits had the active or tacit support of the government. In these riots again, the number of people killed show a hugely disproportionate number of people belonging to the minority communities. This was true in Ahmedabad in 1969 when Muslims died in large numbers. This is true equally of the Sikh killings in Delhi when around 2,000 Sikhs died in Delhi and its environs. This is true of Bhiwandi when the Shiv Sainiks went on a rampage. This is now equally true of Ahmedabad after the Godhra incident on February 27, 2002. Even in this last instance it is not generally known that before Godhra happened and kar sevaks were killed in the Sabarmati Express headed for Ahmedabad, Bajrang Dal activists had harassed and beaten Muslims on February 24 when the same train was going to Faizabad. Muslim women had the veils of their burqas ripped off, some children were also hurt, and many Muslims escaped being brutally assaulted by pretending to be Hindus. This news item appeared on February 25 in Jan Morcha, which is a little known daily published from Faizabad.

This incident has been covered up, for it then allows the Gujarat government, and its supporters in Delhi, to justify post-Godhra killings as a mass reaction. Even if this be true, it has to be admitted at the same time that sectarian violence could not have gone on for days had there not been government support in the shape of pulling back the police and the army. The Bharatiya Janata Party ministers, including the prime minister, did not intervene effectively enough to make sure that Narendra Modi behaved according to the provisions of the Constitution and not as a Hindu sectarian.

Ayodhya, on March 15, turned out to be an anti-climax simply because people expected that the kar sevaks were really a determined and committed bunch. I have always believed that if these sectarians were to be challenged, and their bluff called, they would immediately withdraw. I have historical evidence to back my claim, though sadly it is a little dated. After the Partition, the population of Delhi doubled in a matter of months and kept growing phenomenally. The refugees who came from Pakistan were filled with hatred, anger and hurt. This was the time when Hindu sectarian sentiments were at their highest and communal riots shook the city of Delhi. Delhi was till then a placid and laid-back place. In fact, its elected member to the council was a Muslim.

When the communal elements were getting really dangerous, Jawaharlal Nehru stepped forward to take matters in hand. He made sure that members of the Hindu Mahasabha did not go unpunished. He very demonstrably had them detained and put behind bars. This silenced them for a considerable period of time. But when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was assassinated Nehru banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and came down on this organization with a very heavy hand.

What did the members of the RSS do? They did not come out roaring like lions, but went to the prime minister bleating like sheep. With folded hands and bended knees they implored Nehru to take a kinder view of them. They assured the government that the RSS was simply a cultural organization and had no desire to be involved in politics. All this is known, and there are records to prove the cowardice of these so-called Hindu heroes.

The lesson is very simple. If tough measures are taken against sectarian law-breakers then they immediately begin to behave themselves. It may also be mentioned in this connection that the Hindu Mahasabha and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh were no match to the Congress party electorally as well. From 1951 to 1967, that is for twenty years after the Partition, it was the Congress that won election after election in Delhi. How could this have happened?

The electoral victory of the Congress in the years when one expected that Hindu chauvinists would do well can only be explained by the fact that most Hindus are not professional sectarians. They have jobs to do, they have families to look after, and they have career goals and ambitions. Nehru made these communalists look inept because Nehru promised an economic alternative. He did Bhakra Nangal, Bokaro and Bhilai steel, he had a land reform programme, he had the five year plans, and it was the Congress government that actually helped refugees with their housing needs. In all these departments, the Hindu communalists were useless. They had no idea as to how the country would handle poverty and disease. All they could say was "Hinduism is at peril".

Quite clearly, as Ayodhya demonstrates, the Hindu fanatics have not changed. What has changed is that there is nobody like Nehru who can call the bluff of these paper tigers. Indira Gandhi played the communal card, and sadly, so did her son. The official inheritors of Nehru's legacy undermined all the known pillars of secularism in practice. Instead of attending to poverty, hunger and disease with better and more effective policies, they indulged in the most thoughtless political manoeuvres for short-term advantage. This is what has given these religious chauvinists so much credibility. If communalists are stronger today than before it is because the official secular parties abdicated their responsibilities and cleared the road for sectarians to emerge as viable political alternatives.

Vajpayee has no alternative today but to go along with the RSS and the Hindu sectarians. The hard core of the BJP is made up of Hindu chauvinists. When the BJP lost face in the recent elections it had only two options in front of it. One was to rework its basic policies and make them more citizen- friendly. This is obviously very hard work and also involves tremendous sacrifice on the part of its members and supporters. In which case the only viable alternative left for the BJP was to go back to the temple issue and appease their hard-core supporters. So if Godhra had not happened, perhaps a Godhra would have had to be invented. This is not an unheard of strategy.

There are two reasons why the Ayodhya temple-building programme of March 15 ended with a whimper. One, the Supreme Court did not oblige. It came out with a clear and unambiguous verdict that should make every Indian proud that his judiciary is still intact. But this need not have deterred the kar sevaks if they were really willing to die for a cause. Then at least the sangh parivar could have claimed some reflected glory for its cause. That too did not happen. This is why the Hindu sectarians in the sangh parivar are all looking very foolish. Although this time round, there was no Nehru to call the bluff of these sectarians, it was the Supreme Court that stepped in and exposed them.

The author is professor, 
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

 
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