Edit/Op-Ed

Developmental Amnesia

Abdul Khaliq for BeyondHeadlines

He is an incorruptible leader with incredible energy and endurance; a man of steel who refuses to compromise on any issue; a visionary who has brought about all-round industrial development; a mesmeric orator who can arouse the emotions of the crowd and who works on the psychology that the masses prefer to submit to the strong rather than the weakling; a man of mystery steadfastly refusing to divulge anything of his personal life. For each success of the State, he modestly accepts all the credit. Sounds familiar?

Before you jump to any hasty conclusion, let me clarify that the superhuman described above is none other than the doctored persona of Adolf Hitler, spun out by the Nazi propaganda machine. However, one cannot ignore the eerie resemblance with the carefully advertised image of the CEO of Gujarat. This sketch of Hitler was gleaned from the Nizkor Project website, dedicated to spreading awareness about the Holocaust and to combat Holocaust denial by hate groups. It is yet another testament to the resolve to never forget the Holocaust nightmare so that such an abomination does not recur.

The world has witnessed varying responses to mass murder and genocide. The Nuremberg trials investigated crimes of the military, political and economic leadership of Nazi Germany and delivered the most severe penalties against those responsible for genocide. In stark contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was a restorative justice body that stressed on reconciliation and granted amnesty to many of the perpetrators of the horrors of Apartheid. However, the underlying philosophy for setting up these bodies was essentially the same – to acknowledge that what happened was horrendous and that such horrors should never be repeated. In the words of Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “We needed to look the beast in the eye, so that the past wouldn’t hold us hostage any more.”

But we in the country are working feverishly to forget the Gujarat holocaust of 2002 and ‘move on’, as though what happened then was a minor blip in our history. Through an astounding metamorphosis of thought, large sections of our society today genuflect before the leading figure who presided over the pogrom against an entire community. Writer and editor M.J. Akbar recently lauded Modi’s decisive governance and incorruptibility. His adulation goes to the extent of giving Modi credit for the number of Muslim constables in Gujarat, although most of them were recruited before Modi came to power. He goes on to observe that Modi can aspire for prime ministership if he can convince Muslims that they will be safe under his watch. Even Syed Shahabuddin has extended the olive branch, albeit with a few caveats. The Modi cult grows apace and like the Emergency, his authoritarian style is seen as the panacea for the country’s ills. Clearly, in the present milieu, commerce has trumped justice. In the name of economic development and progress, we have decided to barter away the nation’s soul.

Apologists for the events of 2002 refer to what occurred in Gujaratas a communal riot, thereby implying that both communities actively participated in the mayhem that followed the terrible Godhra train burning. But what happened in reality was a fascist massacre involving predators and victims. A Delhi-based columnist estimated, on the basis of FIRs and police surmise, that about 2 million people, or about 4 percent of the population of Gujarat, had participated in the ‘religious riots’. In a disturbing statement on record, Modi compared that nightmarish period to Gandhi’s Dandi March. Can thinking get more depraved than this? Now, instead of the possibility of people’s revulsion and resolution to stave off such evil, we witness the conductor of the pogrom not only entrenched as the arbiter of Gujarat’s destiny but a serious contender for the country’s top job. The dark underbelly of unpunished crimes, of distrust, of hate, still hangs like an ominous cloud over Gujarat, but Modi’s spin doctors have deflected attention from the issues of justice through unremitting propaganda on development, Sadhbhawana yatras and counterfeit claims regarding peaceful coexistence and brotherhood. Disinformation, half-truths and doublespeak dominate the public space in Gujarat today.

The most mythical of all the claims regarding Modi is that he is a changed person today. His interview to Shahid Siddiqui shows him to be a misunderstood statesman with impeccable credentials carrying the good of the country in his heart. Shahabuddin has observed that Muslims see a change in his attitude. But this is nothing but a façade. It’s not a change of heart, but a change in tactics. Modi knows that the policy of polarisation of communities, which is so successful in Gujarat, will not work on the national stage; hence the Sadhbhawana yatras aimed at camouflaging his real persona — that of a ruthless, right-wing pracharak. Despite the posturing, glimpses of the hard-line Hindutva apostle occasionally peep through. Recently, he gratuitously referred to Ahmed Patel as “Ahmed miyan” with the mischievous intent of emphasising his opponent’s Muslim background, which helps consolidate the Hindu vote in a deeply polarised society. Had the Mahatma been alive today, he might have gently reminded Modi that fraternity and brotherhood, like non-violence “is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”

Amidst all the bluster regarding development and effective governance, the social divide is deeper than ever. Gujarat continues to live in a chamber of horrors, unable to exorcise the ghosts of 2002. There is now no violence but the overpowering atmosphere of distrust and hate is there for all to see. More than ever before, the Muslim is viewed as ‘the other’. With housing apartheid blatantly practiced, the Muslims are corralled together in ghettoes. As Romila Thapar perspicaciously noted, “Ghettoes are not only easy to control but easy to destroy”.

Clarence Darrow, the humanist who fought relentlessly for the rights of the African-Americans, had observed that no matter what laws we pass, unless people are kind and decent and humane to one another, there can be no peaceful existence or liberty. In the ultimate analysis, “peace and freedom come from human beings rather than from laws and institutions.” Sadly, Gujarat today has little of brotherhood or the ‘Indian spirit’. In this difficult period of universal deceit, we need to heed Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s dire warning: “When we neither punish nor reproach evil doers… we are ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

(The author, a former civil servant, is Secretary General of Lok Janshakti Party and can be contacted on akhaliq2007@gmail.com)

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