Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Modi cannot shake off 2002

In his latest column for The Sunday Express (‘Modi and Muslims’, IE, August 5) BJP spokesperson and the Sangh Parivar’s moral face, Sudheendra Kulkarni, has a sad story to tell: Narendra Modi loves Muslims, but alas, Muslims love him not. And, as usual, the real villains are secularists who stand in the way of Muslims embracing Modi and Hindutva’s majoritarianism. How does Kulkarni know of Modi’s love for Muslims? Why, isn’t that “crystal clear” from the “honesty, clarity, candour, courage and transparency” that shines through Modi’s interview to Shahid Siddiqui, editor of the Urdu weekly, Nai Duniya?
When he penned the words, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” celebrated Czech writer Milan Kundera clearly had in mind the communist regime in the erstwhile Soviet Union. In the context of India, were you to replace “man” with “Muslims” and “power” with “Modi”, you might begin to understand why Gujarat’s and India’s Muslims are unwilling to forget. Kulkarni, who counts many Muslims among his friends, has yet to realise that a community that was so far content with rushing relief to co-religionists following communal carnages has woken up to the need for justice and the punishment of the guilty. If the prevailing culture of impunity is to be challenged, to remember is critical.
Siddiqui still insists that he has not forgiven Modi. But if you read his three-page interview with Modi, it is apparent there is much that he has forgotten, or chosen to forget. Thanks only to the intervention of the Supreme Court, victim-survivor Zakia Jafri’s complaint accusing Modi and 62 other top politicians, civil servants and police officers of criminal conspiracy for mass murder was investigated by a specially appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT). The case is now before a magistrate’s court in Ahmedabad awaiting judicial scrutiny. So let’s leave the criminal conspiracy and mass murder charges to the courts and recall a few telling instances of Modi’s attitude to Muslims since 2002 right up to his Sadbhavana circus in 2011.
Observations of the preliminary report of the SC-appointed SIT on Modi’s “action-reaction” theory on the targeting of Gujarat’s Muslims: “His [Modi’s] implied justification of the killings of innocent members of the minority community and an absence of a strong condemnation of the violence that followed Godhra suggest a partisan stance when the state had been badly disturbed by communal violence”.
While Modi announced Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the family members of those who had died in the Godhra train tragedy, family members of those killed in the subsequent carnage were offered only Rs 1 lakh. Following a national outrage against such naked discrimination, Modi did make amends. Not by raising the amount to Rs 2 lakh in both cases but by reducing it to Rs 1 lakh for all.
In mid-March 2002, the Modi government was forced to provide relief material to relief camps run by the Muslim community only after directions from the Gujarat high court in response to a petition by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).
By March-end, following allegations that his government had started threatening Muslims running relief camps with arrest unless they wound up the camps immediately, CJP again had to appeal to the court, which ruled that the relief camps were not to be shut down till their residents found some place to go back to. To ensure compliance, the division bench granted a supervisory role to CJP.
Though forced to comply with the high court’s orders, Modi could not restrain himself from hurling the “hum paanch, hamare pachees” (polygamous Muslim men producing 20 children per family) canard against the community and asking at a public meeting why his government should finance “baby producing factories”. Asked for his comments on such an obnoxious remark, the then BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, responded with “the issue is closed”.
In September 2002, the then VHP president, Ashok Singhal, declared he was “proud” of the fact that entire villages had been “emptied of Islam” and whole communities of Muslims had been “dispatched” to refugee camps. Chief Minister Modi saw no need to question such shocking hate speech, forget directing the registration of a criminal complaint.
Modi’s electoral campaign for the 2002 polls suggested he was pitted not against other national parties but the then Pakistan president “Mian Musharraf”. As one political commentator observed, for the Sangh Parivar, Pakistan and Mian Musharraf are often a euphemism implying Indian Muslims, questioning their loyalty to the country.
All this was in 2002. For reasons of space, fast forward to Modi’s Sadbhavana in October 2011 where, before TV cameras on two separate occasions, he responded with a flat no to Muslims who offered him a skull cap on one occasion and a keffiyah on the other.
Modi claims to have done an awful lot for Gujarat’s Muslims during his tenure. A quick web search will lead you to a recent well-researched paper by Abusaleh Shariff (a member-secretary of the Sachar Committee) to explode this myth.
Need more be said on Modi’s love for Muslims?
The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, and co-editor, ‘Communalism Combat’