Gujarat’s Wounds: can fasting bring harmony?

Life is full of strange paradoxes. Narendra Modi undertook fast for three days for Sadbhavna (harmony), to mark complete peace, unity and harmony (Sept. 2011). This came in the backdrop of the Supreme Court verdict which has asked the trial court in Gujarat to examine all the evidences and amicus curie’s report so that his culpability or otherwise in Gulbarg Society case is decided. The Supreme Court order has directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to file its final report into the allegations of Narendra Modi being the architect-in-chief of the 2002 Gujarat massacre. This was interpreted by BJP as a clean chit to Modi! Modi, in turn, took a sigh of relief and pronounced, “God is great”. Shrewd as Modi is, he has tried to project that this has exonerated him from his sins of Gujarat carnage 2002.

  On one hand, this fast is seen as an attempt to propel him onto the national scene, as after the political absence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the eclipse on the fortunes of Lal Krishna Advani, there is tussle for the top slot in BJP. So far Modi has been projecting an image of a man for development, but we know that the minorities and many allies of NDA are keeping a safe distance from him. This is a hindrance for his prime ministerial ambitions.

BJP, on the other hand, is celebrating the Supreme Court verdict just to create an impression of victory, which it is not. Now the process of justice is wide open and the path is open for the protracted legal battle in times to come. It also seems that many goals have merged together leading to this fast by Modi.

 One aim, of course, has been that Modi can never be acceptable as a prime ministerial candidate by the NDA, unless he comes clean of his role in Gujarat 2002 by seeking an apology. This has a problem, as seeking apology will also be a confession of guilt which will alienate his hardcore constituency which was made to believe that it is insecure because of the tiny Muslim minority. Cleverly, Modi even refused to take the moral responsibility of 2002 by mocking an interviewer by retaliating as to what is this moral responsibility? 

The second goal seems to be a longing for image change-over without really apologising for the 2002. The idea for such a fast must have come from Anna’s fast which was successfully elevated into a spectacle for the hidden goals of the RSS and the corporate, the backbones of Anna movement. Seeing the success of Anna experiment, Modi has been quick to grab the idea of creating a similar spectacle by using public money.

Thirdly, it seems that the ground is slipping from under Modi’s feet, so in order to retrieve the ground he undertook this exercise with the hope that it may help him retain Gujarat and then claim national leadership.

 As such, the truth is that at national level, most of the allies of NDA know that the allegations against Modi have gone down too deep in the psyche of people of India. The acts of commission and omission of this person who was called the “classic fascist person” by the prominent social scientist Ashish Nandy, are too glaring to be swept under the carpet. Modi is trying to deflect all criticism against him by saying that it is an insult to the six crore Gujaratis. This ploy may not work as a large number of citizens from Gujarat know that Modi may be the elected Chief Minister of Gujarat, but he is not the one who represents the essence of “Gujarat of Gandhi” or Gujarat of dalits, adivasis and minorities, who also live in Gujarat in large numbers. Modi has done his best to create an image of a “man of development”, thanks to the policies which have supported large corporate houses which have received state loans at minimal rates of interest, while the farmers continue to commit suicide burdened by loans etc. It is remarkable that while “shining Gujarat” is projected, the “whining Gujarat” is cleverly hidden from public vision. 

The claims of harmony in Gujarat are far from true. Those working at ground level know that post Gujarat carnage, the divide between religious communities has widened. A locality like Juhapura in Ahmadabad is a good example of that. In Juhapura, Muslims from all over the state are trying to settle, in search of safety, physical and emotional, in the hostile environment created by post-carnage situation. The average banking and other social facilities are not reaching such places. Not only Muslims, even Christians minorities are feeling insecure despite the lapse of close to a decade after the carnage.

The Godhra train burning verdict clarified the attitude of the state authorities, where the chief accused of the train burning Haji Umarji was tried for years without any evidence whatsoever and then was exonerated by the court. The minorities are feeling discriminated against and marginalized. On the top of that, lack of justice for the victims is a major issue. Despite one after other police officers coming out with sworn affidavits, the high-handed attitude of the state leadership continues.

  The beginning of Sadbhavna has to be by tendering sincere apologies by Narendra Modi to the victims. You cannot have peace and amity on the foundations of hidden hate and overt injustice prevailing in Gujarat. The polarization of religious communities has become more or less structural and the victims of carnage are finding no respite in their daily lives. Even human rights activists who have been taking up cases on behalf of victims are being targeted and there are no brakes on the authoritarian nature of Narendra Modi.

The gimmick of fasting for peace is a hollow exercise as the beginning of harmony has to be with remorse for injustices which have been heaped on the minorities. Time and again TV anchors and social activists have tried to urge Modi to begin the process of harmony by apologizing for the carnage of 2002, but all these well-meaning appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

  The process of harmony fast revealed many things about the nature of politics being pursued by Modi. While he was more than keen to be wearing the head-gears offered by other priests, he refused to put on the “Muslim” cap. While he could mobilise some victims on the stage, many a victim of injustices were not permitted to come anywhere close to him. We also witnessed that protesters were not allowed to vent their grievances while the fast for amity was in progress. All this is a clear reflection of the shape of things to come. The attempt to win over minorities of the state and the country will not cut any ice. The factors related to mis-governance may come to the fore and be a counter to the five star fast undertaken by Modi.

  This move of fasting has a deeper political agenda and has nothing to do with longing for peace. One wishes the genuine aspirations for harmony are begun through a process of remorse, reparation and proper justice to the victims who have been languishing in ghettoes, bereft of proper rights as citizens. We do need to distinguish between genuine efforts for harmony from these hollow attempts meant to consolidate the politics of Hate master by Modi and his ilk.  (Issues in Secular Politics)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2011 on page no. 13

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