9th Anniversary Special
Gujarat offers us clear glimpses of a Hindu fascist polity working
BY GIRISH PATEL
Our Constitution stands for democracy, sovereignty, socialism, secularism, republicanism, equality,liberty, justice, dignity of the individual and unity of India. The Hindutva ideology of the Sangh Parivar is the negation of every basic feature of our Constitution. Though the Supreme Court of India has declared the basic feature of our Constitution as unalterable and not amendable. And despite the unanimous view of the Parliament and the Legislatures, the BJP–RSS–VHP–Bajrang Dal combine have acted in the way Hitler did in Germany: subverting the Constitution and the law from within by resorting to perversions and distortions and by destroying them from without by openly violating and defying every legal and constitutional provision and authority through its volunteers and mobs.
So far we had some glimpses of their ‘Hindu agenda’. Now we have their entire agenda fully unfolded and acted upon without any fear, scruples and remorse in Gujarat. Let us see how Narendra Modi’s ‘One day cricket match’ was played in Gujarat.
The tragedy of the Bharatiya Janata Party is that its defeat starts from the first moment of its victory. Once it comes to power on a communal platform of anti-Muslims and anti–Pakistan, it loses its raison d’etre, as it has no other people–centred socio-economic program of governance, despite its big talk. It cannot continue to bank upon communal riots for its strength and legitimacy because communal riots then tend to be counter–productive. Frequent riots, if unchecked, will cast doubts about its capacity to govern. And if attempted to be checked, it will antagonise the rioting Hindus by its police actions to control them.
The same tragedy overcame the BJP’s Keshubhai–led government earlier. Once riots were not on their agenda, it had nothing to offer except hollow promises in highly sanskritised words, like ‘Bhay, Bhukh, Bhrastachar Mukt Gujarat’ (Fear, hunger, corruption–free Gujarat), Gokul Gram Yojana, etc. All it could really offer to the people of Gujarat was insensitive and inefficient management of natural calamities like cyclone, drought, earthquake, and man–made maladies, criminalisation of politics, gross violations of human rights both by state agencies and dominant castes, communalisation of police and administration, rampant and all–pervasive corruption, least concern for social justice and healthy environment. In short, an almost total absence of any kind of governance.
When the BJP high command realised that Keshubhai’s BJP government was fast losing ground, as was clearly evident from its defeat in the Panchayat elections and a few by–elections, and there were hardly 12-15 months left for the next Assembly elections due in February–March 2003, they decided on a change of guard. Modi, the sangh pracharak, who was brought in as the new chief minister of Gujarat gave a new slogan: ‘Apnu Gujarat, Aagvu Gujarat’ (Our Gujarat, unique Gujarat).
The induction just 10–12 months before the Assembly elections of a staunch RSS pracharak, a hyped–product of the mass media, an organisation man without any exposure to or experience of government or administration, and a special favourite of the RSS–VHP–BJP was the surest indication of the direction in which Gujarat was to move: a laboratory for the Hindutva agenda. As the BJP was losing elections in one state after another – it ended up in the third position behind the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in UP — its hawks started attributing its defeat to the dilution of the Hindu agenda.
Narendra Modi, "a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer" (first recognized a decade ago by Ashish Nandy – Seminar, May 2002) was ordered to march into Gujarat, not to reform or improve governance or to provide a just, responsive and people–centred government that works, but to saffronise Gujarat, implement the Hindutva agenda and offer a model of a Hindu state for the next round of elections, first in Gujarat in 2003 and then in India in 2004.
On assuming the reins of power in Gandhinagar amidst boisterous Hindu mobs chanting ‘Jai Sia Ram!’ and ‘Modi, March ahead, we are with you’, Modi significantly projected his short stint in power as a ‘one day cricket match’ in which he had to prove himself. For some time he fumbled, unable to get a grip over the government and the administration. While he managed to win his own election with a slender majority, he lost two other by–elections to the state Assembly. He tried to avoid Panchayat elections in the name of ‘Samras Yojana’, which meant unanimous or uncontested elections, by offering monetary incentives. He was about to lose his lustre. And then, suddenly but not so unexpectedly, in the midst of the rising crescendo of the Ram Shila Nyas program of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, came the Godhra carnage of ‘kar sevaks’ on February 27. This was followed by a call for a Gujarat Bandh by the VHP–BD and supported by the BJP on February 28 to voice ‘people’s reaction, resentment and anger’ against the Godhra killings. This provided the golden opportunity that Modi and his ministers had been eagerly awaiting.
Thus, under the stewardship of Modi, Gujarat witnessed in Year Two of the 21st century a new kind of communal barbarism, where the chief minister and his government virtually presided over the well–organised and systematic liquidation of the life, liberty, property, business and dignity of lakhs of Muslims across Gujarat. Clearly anticipating the RSS’ Bangalore message to the Muslims that "the Muslim minority can live in India only if they can win the goodwill of the Hindu majority."
After the Godhra killing of Hindu kar sevaks, Muslims in Gujarat — remember, not just the culprits of the Godhra incident — lost the ‘goodwill of the Hindu majority’ and therefore had to pay a price for it.
And what a price they paid: Hundreds of innocent Muslims were burnt alive; women were raped, molested and killed, even pregnant women were not spared; children and old people were butchered; thousands of homes, buildings and business houses with their belongings were looted and destroyed; a large number of Muslims’ religious places were razed to the ground and replaced by Hindu temples or thoroughfares; more than 2 lakh people were forced to leave their houses and to live in relief camps, without adequate relief facilities and with no hope of just resettlement and rehabilitation; the police continued to act in a partisan manner, indulging in indiscriminate firings, arbitrary arrests, ruthless combing, abuse of criminal law process, refusal to start criminal proceedings against the criminals and closing the doors of justice to the victims. As if Modi was impatient to finish his ‘One–day cricket match’ well before the allotted number of overs.
Earlier, Prime Minister Vajpayee announced at election rallies in UP that the "BJP does not want Muslims votes for its victory." The subsequent revised version was, "We will win even if Muslims do not vote for us". Gujarat’s chief minister Modi perverted it into: "We do not care, not only for your votes, but even for your lives." He converted ‘Apnu Gujarat’ (‘Our Gujarat’) into ‘Maru Gujarat’ (‘My Gujarat’), claiming to speak as the sole defender of the image, prestige and honour of Gujarat; and ‘Aagvu Gujarat’ (‘Unique Gujarat’) into Hindu Gujarat reducing Muslims to helpless victims and second–class citizens.
And now he is planning for early elections in Gujarat trying to capitalise on the communal divide and hostility to win a majority in the elections, as if winning elections even with a greater majority, with Hindu support, would legalise and legitimise the killing and looting of the Muslim minority and the gross violations of their basic human rights. Modi is hailed by many as ‘Chhote Sardar’ (Junior Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) but in fact he is only a ‘Chhote Hitler’.
The question which agitates the minds of hundreds of well–meaning people in Gujarat, in India and elsewhere in the world is: What explains the successful arrival of ‘Chhote Hitler’ in Gujarat? Why the macabre dance by the killers of Mahatma Gandhi in the land of Gandhi himself? Why this Hindu tribalism and medievalism in ‘Nay Gujarat’ in the 21st century? What is still more disturbing and horrifying is the boast of the elite of Gujarat and the fear of those who are committed to democracy, secularism and social justice, namely, "What Gujarat is today, India will be tomorrow." The elite claim with pride that Gujarat is always "a path–breaker for India." Will this turn out to be true?
The commonly accepted picture which emerges from various writings and reports is that what we have witnessed in Gujarat are not the ordinary communal riots between Hindus and Muslims Gujarat has had many in the past. Nor are they a mere product of the communal divide surcharged with intense mutual hatred and hostility, something we have had in abundance in our history. What is significant and striking is that these communal disturbances, commonly described as Hindu–Muslim riots, are qualitatively different from earlier Hindu-Muslim riots.
Since Independence and particularly during 1969 and thereafter, Hindu–Muslim riots have been by and large one–sided, causing larger casualties and losses to the Muslims in general. But the recent riots in Gujarat are perceived to be nothing but a kind of genocide and ethnic cleansing, comparable to what the Nazis did to the Jews in Germany.
These trends were increasingly visible and discernible with each successive riot, particularly after the rise of Hindutva in the ’80s. Now they have emerged so distinctly, visibly, intensely and in accentuated and aggravated form that the quantitative difference has now become a qualitative difference, amounting to a distinct phenomenon. It is not merely a question of more violent and more widespread nationwide riots, but of a clear and present danger of fascism, threatening and undermining the very basis of our constitutional system.
What happened in Gujarat after February 27 has no parallel in India; it is even worse and more dangerous than the Emergency of 1975-77. The latter was certainly a gross abuse of the constitutional system for avoiding a direct threat to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s power and authority in the name of the poor and for saving the country from chaos threatened by "reactionary forces." And yet it maintained some semblance of constitutionalism.
Moreover, it was in a way a ‘coup’ by a handful of Indira Gandhi’s supporters, led by Sanjay Gandhi. But there was a lot of discontent even within the ruling Congress Party and large sections of civil society in India were totally opposed to the Emergency. It led to a very powerful JP–led people’s movement for democracy.
The Emergency could not take root in society and was perceived even by Smt. Indira Gandhi to be nothing but a temporary phenomenon, to be removed when circumstances were favourable, as she well knew that her steps to remain in power were so inherently against the basic values of democracy, civil liberties, rule of law, independence of judiciary and resistance to any form of authoritarianism.
These values were so well understood and accepted in the polity and society that the authoritarian super-structure sought to be created by Mrs. Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi was bound to face cracks or to collapse sooner or later. Realising this, Indira Gandhi, on the basis of intelligence reports which turned out to be incorrect, declared elections and lost power. The constitutional system was soon restored.
But the communal carnage carried out in Gujarat after February 27 was an expression of majoritarian communalism nurtured, developed and consolidated by the Hindutva forces in civil society, winning substantial support among Hindus, and with the open support, assistance and participation of the BJP government, administration and police. During the Emergency, a vibrant civil society resisted state power. But in Gujarat,the communalised state acted in close collaboration with the support of a large number of Hindus, while the rest of Hindu society remained silent or passive as Muslims were made the targets.
Once the polity is controlled by the Sangh Parivar and civil society is substantially communalised and polarised in terms of "We" and "They", and "They" are identified with international Islam, Pakistan and terrorism and branded as anti–national, the threat is more open, direct, serious and dangerous for the forces of democracy, rule of law, secularism, justice and pluralism.
The Hindutva ideology of the RSS parivar, namely, India is Hindu and Hinduism is nationalism, of the ideal of a Hindu state within which Hindutva is seen as constituting the national mainstream or cultural nationalism, a state in which Muslims and Christian are minorities and second–class citizens and can live only if they win the goodwill of the majority, cannot be implemented in India through the constitutional system we have. Both cannot co–exist. And therefore the Gujarat situation is a direct subversion of the Constitution and presents a permanent threat, which if not defeated will destroy the Constitution itself.
Let us briefly describe what happened in Gujarat after February 27.
Ř The government of Gujarat failed to discharge its elementary constitutional obligation, viz., protecting the life, liberty and properties of its citizens, irrespective of their caste, religion or community. Modi’s government did not act as a constitutional government but a government of the Sangh Parivar, meant for the implementation of the Hindutva program and only for the protection and defence of the Hindu community.
Ř The government and its administration directly participated in the communal holocaust in aid and support of the marauding mobs of the Hindu fanatics, attacking members of the Muslim community throughout Gujarat and looting or destroying their property, thereby violating its constitutional obligation of non–discrimination as enjoined by the Constitution of India.
Ř Even though the BJP is a ruling party having its own government in the state, it openly declared support to the ‘Gujarat Bandh’ of February 28 declared by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, even though bandhs have been declared to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India.
Ř Modi is most reliably reported to have instructed the officers and police personnel not to come in the way of what he called the natural reaction of Hindus to the Godhra killings. The government of Gujarat directly and openly violated and infringed upon the basic rights of the Muslim minority under the Constitution of India, resulting in the killing of hundreds, destruction of houses and places of business, desecration of Muslims’ religious places, thereby violating Art.14, Art.19 (1))(g), Art.21 and Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
Ř Instead of accepting responsibility for the mass killings and mass destruction, of the Muslims, Modi’s government justified the killing and destruction thereby taking sides with one community only. The law and order machinery itself participated in the communal violence against Muslims either directly or by remaining indifferent and passive in controlling the mobs.
Ř The government originally discriminated between the victims of Godhra violence even in respect of payment of compensation. Subsequently it was forced to withdraw the discrimination.
Ř The government also failed in providing efficient, effective and speedy relief to the victims belonging to the minority community and also did not take effective steps in providing rehabilitation to the inmates of the refugee camps. A few ministers of Modi’s government and almost all important leaders of BJP, the party in power, participated in the violent activities perpetrated by Hindu mobs throughout Gujarat.
Ř The government condoned and justified the attacks by the Hindus upon Muslim women, thereby encouraging them to violate the fundamental duties regarding gender equality and regarding respect for women.
Ř The ruling party and its allies threatened all secular forces and also attacked some of them so as to prevent them from exercising their fundamental rights in the society.
Ř The government has openly abused the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and has failed to enforce the criminal law, blocking the filing of proper FIRs and proper investigation into the crimes, and by appointing its own party men as police or public prosecutors. This has resulted in a denial of justice to members of the minority community even in respect of crimes committed against them by the ruling groups.
Ř Modi continued to attack the mass media for their factual reportage of the communal carnage in Gujarat, branding them as anti-Gujarat, anti–Hindu and even foreign agents, thereby directly violating the freedom of speech and expression under Art.19 (1)(a) of the Constitution.
Ř The chief minister attacked the Parliament of India, particularly the leaders of the opposition parties by making all sorts of allegations against them for their visits to Gujarat and their observations on the happenings and the continuance of violence in Gujarat.
Ř The Modi government abused every legal and constitutional machinery for its partisan ends. For example, it imposed SSC and HSC examinations, ignoring the all–pervading atmosphere of fear and insecurity only in order to show that everything had become normal. Similarly, in order to pre–empt any allegations or accusations against him for his direct responsibility for the riots, the government even abused the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry Act by appointing a commission, which was not generally acceptable to the independent citizens of the state.
Ř The government, through its agents, tried to malign even the National Human Rights Commission through a public interest petition in the Gujarat High Court, making all sorts of wild allegations against the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.
Ř Modi’s government also made it very clear by its various actions that Muslims cannot enjoy equality with Hindus and must be content to live as second–class citizen at the mercy of the Hindu majority.
Ř The administration and the police to a substantial degree were communalised thereby violating the basic principle of a constitutional government, viz., objectivity and impartiality of the administration and law and order machinery.
Ř The central government controlled by the BJP failed to exercise its constitutional obligations under Art.356 of the Constitution of India and failed to protect the members of the minority community from the violence perpetrated against them by Hindu militants with the support of the state government. Not just that, the BJP government at the Centre abused the so–called principle of state autonomy, not for protecting the people but for protecting Modi’s government.
Ř The government deliberately did not call the meeting of the state Legislative Assembly to avoid any discussion over the government’s failure. Instead it dissolved the Legislative Assembly even though the term of the legislature was to expire only in March 2003. This means that the government abused its power by dissolving the Legislative Assembly and deprived the people of Gujarat of an elected legislature by totally unjustified premature dissolution.
Ř Modi’s government also tried to abuse Art.174 of the Constitution, going so far as trying to force the Election Commission to hold elections in Gujarat at a time chosen by the BJP Government irrespective of ground realities where free and fair elections are not possible.
Ř On the one hand, the government of Gujarat has humiliated, alienated and destroyed the economic backbone of the Muslim community. On the other, it has created an atmosphere of insecurity in the minds of the Hindus by encouraging rumours of reprisal and terrorist attacks from the Muslim community. Thus the whole of Gujarat society has been polarised into two warring groups.
Ř Even the judges of the High Court, sitting or retired, were not spared. No steps were taken for their protection, thus making even the highest judiciary in the state feel insecure. Even top officers belonging to the Muslim community were not saved.
Thus every institution and authority, whether constitutional or legal, has been abused and perverted by Modi’s government in the implementation of its Hindutva agenda. At the same time, the government has encouraged and supported Hindu militant groups acting outside the law and the Constitution to pulverise the Muslim community. All these lead to one irrefutable conclusion – the Sangh Parivar cannot implement the Hindutva agenda legally within the framework of the Constitution because it directly attacks and violates every basic feature of our Constitution.
What has happened in Gujarat cannot therefore be described as "temporary aberration", "transitory disruption" or "momentary insanity", but has to be understood and accepted as an inherent and inseparable part and parcel of the Sangh’s Hindutva agenda. It is either the Constitution or Hindutva; there is no way the two can co-exist.
What happened in Gujarat was not within the legal and constitutional framework or parameters. It was completely outside the law and the Constitution — a kind of Hindu terrorism. It was not merely a question of the misuse of state institutions committed to constitutional principles; it was nothing short of a calculated and well–planned experiment to superimpose a Hindutva-inspired state over the present democratic, secular, republican State apparatus. And the Hindutva forces have actually demonstrated, successfully to an extent, their vision of a ‘secular Hindu’ state. It is not just a competing vision of modern India within the Constitution, but an alternative vision totally outside and hostile to the constitutional framework.
Gujarat, therefore, offers us distinct and clear glimpses of a Hindu fascist polity working within a totalitarian Hindu worldview. To achieve this goal, even to attempt this in a single state in a federal country is very difficult, particularly when the Union government is of a different complexion. But the Gujarat experiment was possible because the NDA government in New Delhi was effectively a BJP government, supported by weak allies.
Even the benevolent principle of state freedom or autonomy was grossly abused, not for protecting the Constitution and for discharging the constitutional obligations of the Union under Art. 355 and 356, but for protecting the BJP’s Modi–led government, granting it the freedom to act as it wished.
This was the most treacherous behaviour of the Union government led by Vajpayee and Advani — a most shameful betrayal of the Indian Constitution. Double–dealing, double–speak, cunning, hypocrisy, blatant lies mark the conduct of the top BJP ministers and leaders at the Centre, whose motive was and is to show the entire nation what a full–fledged BJP government can do ‘for the Hindus’, to extract political mileage from the genocide of Muslims and to project the real face of Hindutva in the next Lok Sabha elections in 2004.
The fight then will not be an ordinary electoral contest between political parties, but a clash between two visions of our nation, two alternative processes of nation–formation. It is to be a struggle for the protection, preservation and defence of the Constitution against the naked bid for the perversion, desecration and subversion of the Constitution. If we lose the elections, it will not be a loss of one battle — we would have lost the war.
The true character and design of the Sangh Parivar in all spheres of our polity, society, economy and culture are now clearly, distinctly, unambiguously and nakedly exposed, leaving no room for doubt. Gujarat has revealed the true nature of Hindutva not only ideologically or theoretically but also in actual practice. This is what they stand for and this is what they want to do. Our ideology, our policy, programme and strategy must effectively respond to this and counter it.
In this context, therefore, our approach should be total, comprehensive and clearly focused, not merely fragmented or diffused. Hence how the riots actually broke out, the causes and consequences of the Godhra incidents, the nature, extent, intensity and dimensions of violence, the magnitude of the damage and loss to Muslims, the Muslims’ poverty, illiteracy and backwardness, or the Hindus’ sense of insecurity or neglect, the absence of social interaction or tolerance or understanding between different communities, police action or inaction, adequate or unjust rehabilitation, the recourse to courts, though important in themselves must not be dealt with or treated in isolation from one another. Their importance lies in exposing the true character of the menace we are facing.
Therefore, any partial or issue–based approach or strategy, no doubt important and necessary in its own way, will not be sufficient, adequate or effective. It is the new fascist threat of the 21st century combining authoritarianism, sectarianism, religious fanaticism and an amoral economic policy of self–aggrandisement, cultural hegemony and brute force. They are operating both constitutionally and extra–constitutionally, inside the Parliament and courts and outside in the streets, and working on people’s minds. But the Gujarat events must not defeat, disillusion, disappoint or frustrate us, but must charge and unite us, open our eyes, shake off our complacency and prepare us for defeating them. In this sense, the Gujarat tragedy could retrospectively prove to be a blessing in disguise, in that it warns us of the impending danger and disaster in 2004.
The elections to the Lok Sabha in 2004 without the backdrop of the Gujarat riots would in a way have been deceptive and misleading. Gujarat at least has rid us of that illusion. Modi and his BJP-VHP-RSS want to replicate Gujarat throughout the country. It is for us to prevent this. The issue is no longer confined to Gujarat. It has become an issue for the entire nation. For Modi, it was a ‘One-day match’ finished in good time. For us now, it is a full 5-day Test. Either they win or we win. Even a draw will be ruinous for the country.
(The writer is a senior Ahmedabad–based lawyer and founder, Lok Adhikar Manch).
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