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Periscope
A sinking ship looks for saving grace
By Saeed Suhrawardy

The election of the President is a foregone conclusion. The reaction of Muslims to that exercise has been mixed. While a few are satisfied with the fact that Sangh Parivar had to find a Muslim name for the highest office in the country. There are others who are skeptics. Their stoic indifference is expressed in the famous words, ‘What is there in a name.’ There are many who fear that the image of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam may be exploited for pushing the type of ‘Muslim’, the RSS would like to have in the country.

There are other events, which apparently do not concern them. The long-awaited reshuffle of the Council of ministers of National Democratic Alliance is over. Except the import of some ageing glamour from Bollywood, there is nothing worth writing about the event. There is nothing that should enthuse Indian Muslims. But there are several omens, which should disturb them.

There are minor events, which have a major significance. In that context, the views of the senior historian Akhilesh Mittal, deserve attention. Writing under the caption, “Riding on bigotry” he states: ‘the mindset, which conditions a section of Hindus to kill and brutalize Muslims because they are Muslims, was manifested in Gujarat. 
The perpetrators of the carnage were self-righteous murderers who believe that they are setting right the wrongs of Muslim rule in India. 

Lest people feel that Gujarat will not happen elsewhere in India, it is necessary to highlight what caught my notice on June 7, 2002. In an advertisement in leading national dailies, the Delhi Development Authority announced the inauguration of a conservation complex at Qila Rai Pithora, where a building has been constructed with a statue of Prithviraj Chauhan on horseback on top of it. The ad-line reads. “Reviving the spirit of nationalism and saluting a great a hero.”

It continues: “Qila Rai Pithora was the capital of the last Hindu king of 12th century, Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan.” This is factually incorrect. The capital of Prithviraj III was Ajmer, which lies beyond Jaipur and some 180 miles south of Delhi. We also learn that June 7 was the 636th birth anniversary of Prithviraj Chauhan .The pity is that the RSS, VHP, and Shiv Sena’s history is based on street gossip and books of kissa tota maina variety catering to the needs of neo-literates and illiterates. In this kind of narratives talismans are essential and miracles abound.

Qila Pithora Rai is in Delhi. Delhi was never the capital of the Shakambhari Chauhans or the Chamahans. The capital was Ajmer and Delhi was a provincial satrapy. At the time of Prithviraj Chauhan, the governor of Delhi was Govindraj, a brother of the ruler known as Khande Rai.”

Akhilesh Mithal continues, “The parivar chooses Prithviraj Chauhan and the likes of Veer Savarkar as heroes simply because they fought Muslims. The largest number of converts to Islam among Rajputs is from the Chauhans. The local soldiery accompanied Qutubuddin Aibek when he went to Lahore in 1206 to become the first independent Sultan of North India. In this context, the celebration of the alleged 636th birthday of Prithviraj Chauhan is as puerile as Pakistanis naming their missiles Ghauri, Ghaznawi and Abdali.

“The June 7 ad went on to announce that there was the need ‘to return to pre-Muslim days in India.’ In other words, all non-Hindus are excluded from the rubric of “nationalism”. It is not only Muslims who will suffer from this dangerous and distorted mindset. All Indians will have to pay the price of creating a bigoted history.” (Hindustan Times, Tuesday, July 2, 2002) 

In that context it is significant that Mr. L .K. Advani has been formally designated as the Deputy Prime Minister of India. However, the post has no constitutional backing. That is a part of the internal developments within BJP, which has to be carefully analyzed for a preview of things to come. It is an important element in what seems more and more like a calculated and aggressive game plan of the BJP as it prepares—in the wake of a succession of serious and embarrassing electoral reverses at the State Assembly level—for the general election in 2004.

That should be read with other signals emanating from the Sangh Parivar. Mr. Advani’s elevation points firmly that BJP that is returning to its ideological roots, to occupy its original plank of unabashed right-wing Hindutva. The appointment of the former Bajrang Dal leader, Vinay Katiyar as the BJP’s president in Uttar Pradesh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s sudden declaration that it is no longer bound by its promise to abide with the court verdict on Ayodhya are pointers to this. That is further aggravated by the continued support of Narendra Modi and the hardening and unapologetic tone in the remarks being uttered in connection with the carnage in Gujarat. The RSS-blessed organizational revamp ostensibly to give it a more youthful and energetic look are some examples of the disturbing drift. 

That is another leaf from the books of Indian National Congress. Younger faces, replacing the old guard are doing well and they have substantially contributed to the growth and expansion of the political bas of Congress. 

The staunch advocate of Hindutva who led the controversial rath yatra, Mr. Advani was probably the natural successor to Mr. Vajpayee. But his formal appointment has reinforced the impression that the BJP is preparing to reveal its real face as it quickly slips off its moderate mask.

Mr. Advani’s elevation being neither a result of the demands of administration nor compulsions of coalition politics is a strident and unambiguous political statement to those within Sangh Parivar and outside about where the BJP is heading and what it wants to become. This is why Mr. Advani’s appointment as Deputy Prime Minister should worry the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance about their long-term prospects. That should be an alarm signal also to the minorities and votaries of secular democracy.

However, an important point should not be missed. According to his own admission Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee initially toyed with the idea of replacing Narendra Modi in Gujarat. However, the stout defence of Narenra Modi by the so-called younger elements-Arun Jaitley and M.Venkaiah Naidu, at Goa enclave of BJP, made him change his mind. The change was reflected in the tone and content of his controversial speech at Goa. It sounded harshly different from his earlier speech at Shah Alam Camp at Ahmedabad. That enthusiastic coterie has taken over complete charge of BJP organization. They are likely to receive further help and guidance from their guide and mentor, Deputy Prime Minister Mr. LK Advani, during his promised weekly visit to BJP headquarters. Mr. Advani after his elevation to the post of Deputy Prime Minister has already sought the blessings of RSS bigwigs. 

To know the causes for the desperation currently seen in the ranks of BJP, we may refer to H.Y. Sharada Prasad, a former press adviser to a former Prime Minister. In his weekly column in Asian Age, on July 3, 2002, he observes, “The BJP decision gives the impression that it realizes that the party has almost lost the battle for the people’s imagination but is trying hard not to make the people feel that it is in panic. Come to think of it, how few individuals the present government has produced with whom the people can identify themselves! Here is a simple test I can suggest. Take a sheet of paper and a pencil and draw a list of 25 or 30 outstanding ministers of Union government since independence, judged from five to six basic criteria such as a vision, dedication, competence, achievement, integrity and contribution to the future good of the nation. It is doubtful, if barring Mr. Vajpayee himself, there will be any other candidate from the present council of ministers who will make it to that list. As for non-governmental leaders (of the calibre of Vinoba Bhave, Jayapaprakash Narayan, Narendra Deva and Ram Manohar Lohia) the BJP’s contribution would be even more scanty.”

The BJP may be a sinking ship desperately trying to stay afloat, but it is carrying weapons of mass destruction, already tried in Gujarat.
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