Three questions for Madhu Kishwar: Dilip D’Souza
Guest post by DILIP D’SOUZA
20+ years ago, I picked you up at the airport in Austin and you stayed at my home there for a few days. You had come there to deliver a lecture, as I’m sure you remember. We developed a friendship based on a degree of mutual respect and liking. I think you’ll agree? Several years after that I remember a stimulating afternoon sitting with you in Panchgani, catching up on many things and discussing various issues threadbare.
We haven’t met in some years now, but I’m going to call on the privilege of our 20+ years of friendship as I write these lines.
I have no problem at all with your desire to learn about Gujarat and Narendra Modi for yourself. Nor with your desire to see beyond what you’ve called the “targeting” of Modi. Nor with your speaking in support of Modi: if there are people who criticize Modi, I understand and accept that there are those who support him — it’s a democracy we live in after all. Nor with your speaking your mind: you have always done so and it’s the least I expect from you. (In turn, it’s the least you should expect from me).
No Madhu, I have no problem with any of that. And I’m not going to get into debates about Gujarat’s development (as with most things, there are multiple ways of looking at it). Not even into debates about what Modi did or did not do in 2002 to stop the massacres. I travelled there in that time and I have my own opinions, but I realize others see things differently.
There are probably three things I do have problems with.
One is in your reply to Zahir Janmohammed. Your third sentence there says his letter “annoyed me no end.” Your sixth sentence says “my annoyance kept increasing at your jaundiced viewpoint.” It seemed to me this set the tone for the whole reply. So I’d like to ask: Zahir’s viewpoint is clearly and dramatically different from yours; does that necessarily mean it is “jaundiced”?
These are wrenching, divisive issues you and he and all of us are grappling with. I can’t deny they get people on all sides annoyed. But you actually end your letter to Zahir by saying we need to “know how to bridge divides rather than widen them”. How do we bridge divides if we start out by calling the other guy “jaundiced”? What happened to respecting the other guy’s views and engaging with them? Is it not conceivable that some might see your views as jaundiced? And if so, what if they began a note to you by saying “I’m annoyed by your jaundiced views”? Would you feel like continuing a dialogue with such a person?
After all, I didn’t agree with some of what you said that afternoon in Panchgani (among other things, we discussed the RSS). Yet I think you will agree, if you remember that conversation, that I didn’t call your opinions jaundiced, and that it was indeed a stimulating afternoon.
I don’t know if you think this is a trivial thing. But I don’t. I think this is fundamental to any attempt at understanding and dialogue. And given the divisions and polarization I see around me, we need dialogue more than ever. Or the anger and hatred, I fear, will one day consume us all.
The second is your criticism of Teesta Setalvad (for example, in your interview with News Live here) — among other things, for all that’s happened with the SIT. Now I will support fully your right to disagree with Teesta. But surely you know — to pick just one thing to wonder about — of the discrepancies between the preliminary and final SIT reports? For example look at a couple of side-by-side excerpts here. What happened to “The explanation given by Shri Modi is unconvincing and it definitely hinted at the growing minority population” in the preliminary report?
This is the kind of thing that has people, and not just Teesta, asking serious questions about the SIT report.
The third is one Kodnani. For me, one thing about 2002 stands out and so many years later, I cannot see any way to suppress its implications. In 2007, after he won the Gujarat Assembly elections, Modi actually appointed Maya Kodnani as his Minister of Women’s Development and Child Welfare. He did this despite knowing what she had done in 2002 (for which she is now in prison). We know so because Modi’s own government, in which Kodnani was a Minister, actually filed an affidavit in the High Court in 2009 saying Kodnani “was the leader of mob … she was instigating the mob to commit crime and therefore she was playing the main role.” What’s more, “she is a minister in the present government, so there are ample chances of tampering with prosecution witnesses by way of giving threat.” (See this article for some details).
Overseeing the welfare of Gujarat’s children and its women’s development for a period a few years ago was a lady doctor who, a few years before that, had orchestrated the murder in Naroda-Patiya of 90+ Gujaratis, including 34 children and 32 women. Knowing that history, Modi appointed her to that position.
It’s simple, then: A man who knowingly appoints a murderer as Minister of Women’s Development and Child Welfare is not a man I want to see as PM of this country. It astonishes me that anyone would.
Good luck, Madhu. As always, I wish you only the best.