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Friday, April 2, 2010

Without balance

The Congress’s hostility may add to Modi’s political standing

By Swapan Dasgupta

Indian jurisprudence is based on the presumption of innocence unless proved otherwise by law. In the case of the chief minister of Gujarat, a clutch of determined activists have turned the principle on its head. The starting point of the ‘liberal’ discourse on Gujarat is that the law is an ass and Narendra Modi is guilty of ‘genocide’, ‘mass murder’ and organizing an ‘anti-Muslim pogrom’ in 2002.

This epidemic of hyperbole would not have mattered had the abuses been confined to routine political sparring. Never mind C-grade politicians who love embellishments, even India’s intellectuals have a tradition of overstating their case — Lord Curzon once rued it as the Indian penchant for what the English called a ‘mare’s nest’. “Very often,” he noted bitterly, “a whole fabric of hypothesis is built out of nothing at all. Worthy people are extolled as heroes. Political opponents are branded as malefactors. Immoderate adjectives are flung about as though they had no significance. The writer no doubt did not mean to lie… As he writes in hyperbole, so he tends to think in hyperbole, and he ends by becoming blind to the truth.”

Curzon made that observation to the Calcutta University convocation in 1905. A hundred years later, we had the curious spectacle of one of India’s leading historians comparing the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s high-handedness in Nandigram to the Jallianwala Bagh killings!

The ‘truth’ that Curzon felt Indians had scant respect for is, of course, a matter of perception. In statecraft, however, there is a wall that separates political rhetoric and the legal process. In the case of Modi, that distinction has been sought to be obliterated by shrill groupthink. Modi may well be politically culpable for the administration’s failure to prevent the retaliatory killings of Muslims after the Godhra outrage of February 2002 — and this was a subtext of the 2002 and 2007 Gujarat assembly elections — but this is different from the unproven assertion that he conspired with the killers.

It is important to distinguish between political failure and criminal conspiracy. The inability of his opponents to defeat Modi electorally on two separate occasions has prompted them to seek legal recourse, using moral indignation and media outrage as pressure points on the judicial system. Modi’s detractors failed to influence voting behaviour in Gujarat but they succeeded in creating a polarized environment and unilaterally pronounced him personally guilty of mass murder. Eight years after the riots and despite many of the cases going to the Supreme Court, there is no first information report or charge against Modi. The special investigation team which questioned the chief minister exhaustively last Saturday can, of course, recommend that Modi has a legal case to answer but till that happens and till a court pronounces him guilty, the chief minister is innocent. This fundamental principle of jurisprudence holds good for every citizen of India, however exalted or lofty.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the SIT may conclude that there is no evidence to link Modi to a criminal conspiracy. Will that satisfy the activists or his political opponents? The answer is well known. Those who persist in describing Modi as a ‘mass murderer’ will continue to do so regardless of what the SIT or the courts decide.

The unending abuse of Modi by those who see themselves as enlightened may well be political grandstanding. But through sheer persistence, and some official patronage that began with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and has continued with the United Progressive Alliance, they have distorted the discourse to ensure that everything in Gujarat, including its spectacular economic progress, is viewed through the prism of the 2002 riots. Some non-governmental organizations even invoked the 2002 riots to denounce the Tata decision to shift its Nano manufacturing unit from Singur to Gujarat.

Sanctimonious shrillness, it would seem, has overwhelmed civilized conversation. The incredibly petty blacklisting of Amitabh Bachchan, and even his son Abhishek, by the Congress is in line with this wave of hysteria and intolerance. The owners of the Congress have their personal reasons for shunning the Bachchan family — the inside story of the great Gandhi-Bachchan fallout remains a subject of salacious gossip. In the normal course, this feud should be of little concern to the great unwashed. Nor has it affected the fortunes of the two families: both are distinguished in their own spheres. However, when a family feud is cynically linked to the standards of activist-determined correctness, it becomes a source of worry. By charging the brand ambassador for Gujarat tourism with implicitly endorsing the 2002 killings, the Congress has signalled a ban on any association with Gujarat. Despite their personal misgivings, Congress chief ministers have rushed to oblige someone’s flight of whimsy.

Conversely, as the Republic Day awards showed, Modi-baiting has become the route to a Padma honour and a compensation for forfeiture of deposits in elections.

The issue is not Bachchan. The Congress has imposed sanctions on a Gujarat that is celebrating the golden jubilee of its statehood. Last week, an attempt was made by activists, with the backing of the Congress, to prevent the Chief Justice of India from sharing the dais with the chief minister. Thankfully it didn’t work and constitutional decorum was maintained but the message was unmistakable: any association with Modi’s Gujarat will incur the Centre’s displeasure. It was a message to the Ambanis, Tatas and Adanis too.

An integral part of India has been declared a rogue state for having the temerity to elect Modi. Bachchan has the standing and perhaps even the self-confidence to withstand official pressure. Given the hostile public reaction to the Congress’s churlishness, the controversy may even help him get back some of his sheen. But many lesser beings may wilt under the threat of official pressure. In the liberal discourse on Modi, there is no pretence of balance: the khap panchayat of liberalism has pronounced him guilty. The clamour is for the Indian courts to endorse the verdict; those who resist, risk abuse and accusations of bigotry.

For the indefatigable chief minister, there is a definite sunny side to the Congress’s targeting of Big B. By equating the promotion of Gujarat with the deification of Modi, the party has added weight to the chief minister’s attempt to become synonymous with his state. An assault on Bachchan is certain to be regarded as an attempt by the Congress to deflate Gujarat. The resulting outburst of regional pride is calculated to give Modi’s political standing a further fillip. In the past, he has cleverly translated the ‘secular’ indignation over the riots into an attack on the self-respect of Gujarat. The Bachchan episode may help the veteran marginally but it has given Modi a brush to paint his opponents as petty and spiteful.

For India, however, there is a heavy price to be paid for the Congress’s ham-handed overkill. Competitive politics has hitherto been governed by a set of club rules that the mainstream parties have agreed to follow. The Congress has chosen to break the liberal assumptions of constitutional politics by setting bizarre standards of intolerance. Those with long memories will recall the unwritten ban on broadcasting Kishore Kumar songs during the Emergency because the singer had the temerity to refuse to perform at a Youth Congress rally.

Hostile public reaction may well force the Congress to call off its hounds and allow normal politics to prevail once again. That would be prudent. If nothing else, there is a cruel irony behind embracing the vicious logic of the very rioters who equated the Godhra arsonists with an entire community.

The Telegraph, April 2, 2010


Anonymous said...

Ah, the Emergency! Now that you have brought up Emergency, let me remind you that the man, and I use the term loosely, behind Emergency was none other than the father of the future face of BJP, Varun Gandhi. A chip off the old block, who clearly shows more promise than his father ever did. Perhaps the Modi of the next decade? Need I say any more?

Kofta said...

In the liberal discourse on Modi, there is no pretence of balance: the khap panchayat of liberalism has pronounced him guilty. The clamour is for the Indian courts to endorse the verdict; those who resist, risk abuse and accusations of bigotry. -

Absolutely spot on. This is exactly what it is and the faces of indgination by those who preen and display their indignation over the existence of khap panchatats and er debates on khap panchayats and steer motivated debates on the subject on live TV, should hang in shame.

Indian Nationalist said...

There are plenty of "Anonymous" on this board who like to keep the name as their Fake Jesus and his Gospels written by several others Anonymous John , Mathews and others.

Your lie and deceiveness will only unite the Hindus of this country and make sure that Narendra Modi will be the PM of Bharat.

Pilid said...

Well written. The so-called civil society activists' half truths, outright falsehoods and pressure seriously threaten to undermine state institutions in a big way. We saw this with the contorted attempts to discredit the Nanavati panel report. The tragedy is that they enjoy enormous patronage and power in the press and the political leadership which allows them to get away with it.

So far, I am not aware of anyone who has questioned R.K.Raghavan's integrity. So let us await the SIT report before passing judgment on it.

Anonymous said...

So, now you want to hold the son responsible for father's crime and for how many generations to come? Whereas other gandhis do not seem to carry any baggage either of bofors or delhi riots.

Chaitali said...

Modi may well be politically culpable for the administration’s failure to prevent the retaliatory killings of Muslims after the Godhra outrage of February 2002 — and this was a subtext of the 2002 and 2007 Gujarat assembly elections — but this is different from the unproven assertion that he conspired with the killers.

I wonder how many congressmen should be held guilty for the administration’s failure to prevent riots across the country?

Anonymous said...

Some of the anti-Modi 'legal' activists would be behind bars in any decent democracy for trying to influence the course of justice. Why are Indian courts indulging them despite repeated exposure of their fabrications and exaggerations? Sometime ago the CJI annoyed by Setalvad's allegations against the SC wanted to what her locus standi was, and that was the end of the matter, as a storm was duly kicked up in media. If it was any of us ordinary folks, we'd have been hauled up for contempt of court. On top of it, 'activism' is livelihood for these 'activists', the legal system is allowing itself to be used to ensure regular income/cash flows for them.

Anonymous said...

Nah, not holding the son responsible for the father's crimes. Just pointing out that he comes across as someone who is only too eager to follow in his father's footsteps and I daresay he will too as soon as he has the power to. What is ironic is that those who opposed the Emergency are the ones who are bringing him to the fore to carry out his legacy. And of course anybody who knows anything about Emergency does know that it was more Sanjay Gandhi's doing than the Congress'.

Anonymous said...

Now, after holding modi responsible for riots without giving him a chance, people are also out predicting Varun's future too. Is this what is termed freedom of opinion? And I don't understand why Varun was wrong when he mentioned that he would cut those hands which will rise against Hindus? He did not say anything against muslims unless it is implied that muslims are enemies of hindus. Just substitute hindus in varun's satements to muslims and suppose it was spoken by a muslim leader, it would have been justified as a great secular statement.

Anonymous said...

As far as I go, I used to be a staunch supporter of the Hindu right and am ashamed that at one point even justified the riots. But as I look at the ugly side more... I just feel we are no different than the scum of he other side. The aspiration of being the change, the promise being different have simply vanished. We are as corrupt, as opportunistic as the other side.

As far as Modi goes, yes he is a good administrator with respect to development but I do not buy the BS that the riots were spontaneous.We wanted to teach them a lesson, lets be bold enough to admit it.

At this point in time, its about establishing a modern Indian republic where people can be free to do what they please to and not have to worry about idiots on either it those who want to impose the burkha or those who oppose live in relationships -NONE of their business. If it's illegal, the law of the land will take action.

As far as something being offensive goes, if you get offended by something someone says or does.... YOU are weak to be shaken so easily.

Anonymous said...

Pope John Paul II shielded 'ecclesiastical' crimes against as many as 2000 children. That doesn't offend these gown-clowns.


A Christian group on Sunday demanded an unconditional apology from Union Minister of State for Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh for terming the wearing of the traditional convocation robe as a "barbaric colonial practice".

Describing Ramesh's statement as remarks against Pope and Christians around the world, Sajan K George, president of the Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said the remarks have deeply offended religious sentiment.

"The practice of wearing a traditional coloured gown during a convocation ceremony at any university is a barbaric colonial practice. Why can't we wear simple dress instead of these gowns," Ramesh said at the seventh convocation ceremony of the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) at Bhopal Friday.

Ramesh had publicly removed his gown and said: "Why cannot we have convocation in simple dress instead of coming dressed up as medieval vicars and popes."

"GCIC strongly condemns such insensitive remarks by the honorable minister. We are all the more concerned that the minister has chosen Bhopal, the epicenter of persecution against Christians in India to demean Pope," George said.

"The minister spoke with utter irresponsibility and with lack of respect for the Pope and with a display of incredible cynicism towards the church and millions of people around the world."

"The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) demands from him an unconditional apology for such insensitive remarks," he added.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 4.53 p.m.

You can't be serious, unless you happen to be Arundhati Roy! If you don't find anything wrong with Varun's speech, than how can you be a BJP supporter? For as far as I know, neither are they Maoist sympathizers nor supportive of any of the terrorist outfits around the world. And surely, at the root of all the terrorist activities underlies the same philosophy as Varun's, i.e. take the law into your hands to pay back for all the grievances, real or imagined. If we all began to think and act that way, there will be no place for law in our land and that would eventually lead to total anarchy!

Anonymous said...

The Congress needs Modi more than the BJP. The Congress would not have won 2004/2009 (especially 2004) if not for Modi.

Anonymous said...

Attacking Modi/2002 may increase Modi's popularity in some small sections in one state. But that will force BJP to support Modi/2002, thus painting it as extremist/violent. The increased Modi's popularity in some small sections in one state is a small price to pay, as that will virtually ensure a Congress rule in the Center as long as Modi is there.

Anonymous said...

dear sd
It is a human tendency to remain cautious knowing track record of a community in the the onus is on the community and the harrased cautious human being cannot be blamed!
The background before godhara:in almost all towns and cities of guj.cong.nutured antisocial elements of a community who were responsible for designed khanjarbaji,resulting riots ,illegal wine business.some were having indirect links with d gang.such people were also majorly saved and protected by their community bastis.this resulted in riots,frequent long curfews,extended closing of shops,offices,industries not coming to guj.,people without earnings and jobs,daily workers suffered most. guj.,cong. govts.instead of controlling them were using them for political there was an accumalated grievence against the community and their bastis.
namo or no namo ,burning more than 50 hindus in godhara (with help of bastis) was supposed to taste patience of gujaratis if they want to live safely in guj.conspiracy and burning of 50 hindus(not one tree)prove guts of the community and above circumstances in guj.namo has come to guj.,with objectives of inclusive development &reduce corruption but the community gifted him burning of 50 hindus!
corrupt deshmukh (central min.) telling that ab has to break with guj.this is the height of the insult of gujaratis.gujrat has capacity to live on its own.why namo is silent?gujaratis have serious difference of opinion with sg&co.,who have almost ruined indians.gujaratis appriciate qualities and not personalities,whether it is namo or s.g,r.g.

Anonymous said...

I had my doubts on Modi back in 2002, and I even voted for Congress in subsequent elections. However I am no longer sure. The shrillness of the anti-Modi brigade is putting me off. Also, the revelation that many of those claimed rapes, foetuses on swords, and om carved on foreheads etc are exaggerations is unsettling. Apparently these exaggerations have become part of training curriculum at terrorist camps in Pakistan, so the intent seems to be to help stage those atrocities on innocents. Though still uncertain about to what extent Guj government is culpable, I am fairly convinced that the truth is not going to emerge as long as we have these rabid activists around.

Internet Hindu said...

Spot on Swapanda.

shanmohamed inamdar said...

Dalit Muslim hope in Supreme Court ruling
In a great development for a PIL lodged in Supreme Court by Akhil Maharastra Khatik Samaj (AMKS) for inclusion of
Dalit Muslims in Scheduled Caste category, the apex court recently ordered Union of India to file counter affidavit to the
writ petition. It is happening for the first time that the Union of India has responded to this petition. Shamsuddin Shaikh,
chairman of Akhil Maharashtra Khatik Samaj, has said that they are fighting for Dalit Muslim rights for more than a
decade. From 1935 to 1950 all Dalits irrespective of their religion were provided with reservations.
However, on Jan.26, 1950 when the constitution of India came into force an Order was passed by then President of
India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, limiting the reservation to only "Hindu Dalits", clearly prohibiting the provision of Article 341
which states that all SCs should be given reservation. The Presidential Order 1950 denies inclusion of Dalits of any
community other than Hindu in the SC category. The order says no person who professes a religion different from
Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of the SC. This part of the order runs contrary to the provisions of Articles 14
(equality before the law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion) and 25 (freedom to profess and practice
any religion) of the Constitution.
The situation clearly calls for a constitutional amendment to include Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. Sikhs and
Budhists were already included under SC.
Dalit Muslims deserve SC reservation as they are not only engaged in the same profession as "Hindu Dalit" but also
suffer the same discrimination as their "Dalit Hindu" counterpart. Mushtaq Ahmed, Supreme Court advocate in the above
case, said the Ranganath Mishra Commission has also recommended SC status for Dalit Muslims. There are 35 Dalit
Muslim castes among Muslims.The final hearing of apex court is on 29/3/2011.we hope dalit converts will get justice.