Sadhvi Pragya, saffron terror and remembering Manto

After many politicians with criminal backgrounds to them are the BJP’s much-flaunted faces in these elections, there comes up another shocker. Mind you, this new entry is a terror-accused! Yes, Sadhvi Pragya is still not acquitted in the Malegaon terror blasts case, yet she is projected by the rulers of the day as one of the potential future rulers of this land! A terror-accused to be placed up there on our heads? Why? Perhaps, to terrorize us!

In fact, all her recent utterances can be termed nothing but very, very dangerous - the manner in which she speaks of her role in the destruction of the Babri Masjid; not to be overlooked the fact that she seemed to glorify that barbaric act! Shocking and perverse and absolutely disgusting! Not to overlook the criticism and “curses” she heaped on the former ATS chief of Maharashtra, Hemant Karkare.

In fact, what’s shocking that with such an array of backgrounders to Sadhvi Pragya, she has been given a ticket to fight in these general elections. Should a terror-accused be given a chance to fight elections and if elected be placed up there? No, definitely not.

Its about time that Sadhvi Pragya’s so-called defenders should read this latest book by the former Maharashtra Inspector General of Police, S. M. Mushrif - Brahminists Bombed, Muslims Hanged (Pharos Media). Where this Pune-based former top cop traces out the very existence of Right-Wing terror groups in the country. To quote the publishers of his book,

“bomb blasts since 2002 were the handiwork of saffron terrorists but colluding agencies picked up Muslims, fabricated cases against them and threw them into jails….RSS, Abhinav Bharat, Bajrang Dal and Jai Vande Matram etc., executed umpteen terror attacks but government agencies like Intelligence Bureau, NIA and ATS, with the help of people in government and saffron sympathisers in the media, erased proofs and implicated innocent Muslims in these cases.”

Mushrif has focused on bomb blast cases like the serial blasts in Mumbai trains, German Bakery, Aurangabad Arms Haul, the explosions in Hyderabad’s Dilsukhnagar, the Muhammadiya Mosque blast in Parbhani and the Makkah Masjid blast….

The vital strand that runs through is “that agencies covered up important proofs, did not investigate vital clues and failed to present important eyewitnesses in courts. Courts acquitted some of the victims after they spent long years in jails but they received no compensation and those who framed and incriminated them were never held to account.”

In fact, S. M. Mushrif’s two earlier books, Who Killed Karkare? and 26/11: Why Judiciary Also Failed? (Pharos Media) also focus on the terrorising tactics of the Right-Wing groups… He wants the exact truth to come up and recommends the setting up of an independent agency to probe/investigate, and with that project the truth to these terror attacks.


Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories stand out. Stark, they hit ever since I started reading them, right from my teenage years …And as I’d read details to the struggles and pains he went through, I simply marvelled the man’s survival prowess. Though, at times, I would sit wondering the contradictions attributed to him. On one hand he was portrayed as a loving husband and doting father, yet his visits to sex workers were also played up. Somehow, something didn’t seem to jell.

Thankfully, some of that haze to Manto got cleared in 2005, as it was around that time that I happened to meet and interview his grand-nephew, Abid Hasan Minto when he had travelled to New Delhi to attend a Progressive Writers’ meet at the Jamia Millia Islamia. A senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, also the President of the National Workers’ Party of Pakistan and together with those political frills, perhaps the biggest frill—the fact that he was himself a well-known writer and critic…And at the start of that interview I had to ask him this crucial why: why did he—Abid Hasan Minto—spelt his surname differently. Why Minto and not Manto?

He’d detailed: “Manto is a Kashmiri surname. Saadat Hasan Manto was my father’s paternal uncle. The surname Manto was too closely associated with him, with one particular individual. My father had dropped the surname, but I chose to take it with a change in spelling.” He had further detailed: “We’re ethnic Kashmiris… My father’s grandfather had shifted from Srinagar to Amritsar. In fact, my parents were born in Amritsar and my mother was the niece of Saifuddin Kichlew. I was born in Rawalpindi in 1932, though on the eve of Partition I was holidaying in Srinagar.”

Of course, I had asked him all those curiosity-laden queries about Saadat Hasan Manto: the ‘whys’ to his friendship with prostitutes in Mumbai, to his emotional fragility, to his near-poverty existence, to all those contrasts he seemed saddled with.

And this is what he’d told me: “Saadat Hasan Manto was my father’s paternal uncle/chacha. I’d got close to Saadat Hasan Manto when I came down to Lahore around 1953 to study law. He was already living there and I’d interacted with him regularly for two years—till he died…. Regarding he being mentally or emotionally fragile that’s just not true. No, not at all…he wasn’t mad, on the contrary very sharp and clever. It’s just that he was an alcoholic and in those days there were no deaddiction centres or clinics for alcoholics, and anybody with alcohol-related problems was dumped in an asylum. And regarding his name getting linked to prostitutes, I can say with great confidence that he was absolutely in love with his wife and greatly committed to her. They were happy with each other, happily married till the very end. She was also a Kashmiri like us and her family earlier shifted to Africa and later to Mumbai. And that’s where they had met and married.”

Then why those endless tales of his sexual flings with women of all shades? 

“Maybe before his marriage, whilst he was living in Mumbai, he mixed around with all sections and all levels of people. Also there could be an underlying factor to it—he was taken up by the non-elite and those from the socially lower strata. But after his marriage he was devoted to his wife and except for those alcoholic-related offshoots, he suffered from no other disease or problems. Another fact stands out: he was severely affected when his only son died as a child. Though he had three daughters but that loss played havoc and he continued to be in deep sorrow. No, it’s not the Partition chaos that affected him as much as the death of his little son. Somehow till the end he couldn’t get over it and it had left him completely devastated…That was Manto.”


Isn’t it time we salute Manto in that full-fledged way... salute the stark idealism he carried right through, till his last day. Maybe ‘Manto museums’ are setup in the three cities in India he was associated with – Amritsar, Mumbai and Srinagar – so that the young and the upcoming writers get that much needed inspiration after reading his works.