Fast Backward: Aijaz Zaka Syed
What a farce! What a farce of a fast! One doesn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry over this state of affairs in the world’s largest democracy. It is a sad day in a nation’s history when someone who presided over a state-sanctioned genocide goes on fast in the name of “peace and harmony” and media vultures and assorted politicians rush to canonize him as the apostle of peace. When it comes to political theatre, few can beat our politicians. They have no qualms in mimicking their more successful fellow travelers if it can get them a few more votes or push them a couple of notches up the popularity ladder.
So if inspired by the stupendous success of the urban legend called Anna Hazare, BJP’s eternal prime minister-in-waiting Lal Krishna Advani comes up with another rath yatra hoping to revive the dying embers of his blighted career, could his protégé Narendra Modi have been far behind?
The old war horse, who painted India red with his charioting in 1990s culminating in the demolition of Ayodhya mosque and riots across India, appears to have been upstaged by his most accomplished disciple. Modi shares his guru’s craving for the top job in the land. Like his mentor his hands are blood-stained. No amount of shining and spin has washed it.
So with his five-star fast with accompanying media circus, the Gujarat chief minister has taken a shot at two birds with one stone. Claiming ‘victory’ and ‘vindication’ in Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene in numerous cases pending against him in Gujarat’s courts, he has sought to break free of his tainted past and the infamy that has plagued his rule in the ‘vibrant Gujarat.’
The other target, the ultimate one, in Modi’s sights is of course the Delhi throne. He clearly thinks it’s time to got out of Gujarat and make a dash for the delectable cake on display in Delhi. With the confusion and chaos prevailing in the ranks of a battered and bruised Congress and Dr Manmohan Singh presiding over the last rites of the grand ol’ party, there couldn’t be a better time to capture Delhi. Hence this carefully choreographed charade in the name of promoting peace and harmony. But that has been enough for the media to go crazy gushing how a repentant Modi was undergoing a Gandhian catharsis, magnanimously reaching out to the Muslims, who were at the receiving end during the 2002 pogrom.
And yet the chief minister hasn’t offered a single word in remorse or something close to apology for what happened nearly a decade ago. Indeed, when an enthusiastic television reporter asked if he accepted the moral responsibility for Gujarat 2002, he shot back: ‘What is moral responsibility?’ Yet the media wonks cannot stop singing hosannas to the BJP’s so-called prime minister in the waiting. If it was up to them, they would anoint him the king tomorrow. Bharat Mata ki Jai!
The 3-day fast, organized in the air-conditioned comfort of a modern convention center cost the state Rs 50 million, was another grand spectacle of breathless adulation–little different from the one India has witnessed in recent months. There was a sprinkling of burqas, Muslim caps and the Sikh turbans in the crowd. There were some flowing beards too endlessly garlanding the messiah India has been apparently waiting for all these years.
And everyone wants Modi’s victims to move on. After all, it’s been nearly 10 years since the carnage. How long will they go on and on about something that happened long ago. I wish that was possible. The Muslims would have moved on, if only they had been offered some semblance of justice, or even a remote promise of justice some day. There has been none so far. Neither from the state government, nor from the federal coalition headed by Sonia Gandhi. Let alone justice, let alone apologies; no one has bothered to offer them even a kind word of sympathy.
Whenever someone talks of justice for the victims, the BJP talks of ‘Muslim terrorism’ and “action and reaction” although numerous inquiries have failed to connect Muslims to the Godhra train tragedy. Otherwise, it brings up the issue of anti-Sikh riots in Delhi under the Congress rule, as if one saga of savagery justifies another.
Besides, the Congress has apologised to Sikhs for the 1984 carnage, not to mention the legal action taken against many senior politicians involved. What has the BJP or Modi’s Gujarat done? Instead of apologizing for the shame of 2002, they have actually gone after the victims. Hundreds of young Muslims have spent years in jails for crimes they couldn’t have committed in their wildest dreams. Some of them were picked up from as far as Hyderabad and Uttar Pradesh as “Pakistani agents” and have been languishing behind bars without a trial.
Many of the tens of thousands of people who fled their homes a decade ago still cannot return. Ten years on, Gujarat’s Muslims are still waiting for justice. And instead of offering them justice, the administration has been running a witch hunt and doing everything to protect the guilty.
From blatantly destroying the records and evidence of the 2002 pogrom to punishing conscientious police officials and civil society activists for exposing the complicity of you know who, no effort has been spared to derail the due process. Brute state power is used at every step to undermine justice and rule of law.
Zakia Jafri, the widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who along with the indifferent cops watched the dismemberment and burning of her husband, has been running around in her twilight years looking for justice. She has yet to find it. And there are hundreds like her out there.
Is it any wonder then Gujarat’s Muslims see Modi’s fast for peace as a cruel joke and adding insult to injury? Sitting in the comfort of television studios and newspaper offices, it’s easy to lecture the victims to move on. You feel the “pain” only when you are at the receiving end.
If Gujarat–and India–is to move on, it needs to move against the architects of the 2002 genocide. Gujarat’s victims are long past apologies now. They are looking for justice. Without justice there is no peace—or progress. And please spare me this balderdash about the progress Gujarat is supposed to have made under Modi. Gujarat has always been in the forefront of economic growth, thanks to the enterprising spirit of its people.
Besides, rising financial indexes are no parameters of a nation’s progress. Remember, under Hitler, Nazi Germany too had registered unprecedented economic growth within a short span of time–and look where it got it.
If the BJP and the democratic majority of the country see their messiah in Modi, who are we to gripe? The Hindutva party must realize though that without an inclusive approach, you can’t rule a melting pot of a nation like India for long. Forget Muslims; the reasonable majority of Hindus wouldn’t tolerate it.
(Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on the Middle East and South Asian affairs. Contact: ataijaz.syed at hotmail dot com)