IT is rare that a minister involved in communal riots is arrested. But the Gujarat High Court has made it possible by cancelling the anticipatory bail given by a lower court to Maya Kodnani. She, member of the Narinder Modi cabinet, had abetted and participated in the 2002 carnage. She escaped justice for seven years. Thanks to the Supreme Court which sent its own investigation team to find out such instances of Muslims’ murder which had not come to light. Many more killings are yet to be uncovered.
Giving its observations on the Kodnani case, the High Court has said that “communal harmony is the hallmark of democracy. If in the name of religion people are killed, that is absolutely a slur and a blot on a society governed by the rule of law.” These words are lost on the BJP-led government. But they express the determination of the nation which has been trying to establish a pluralistic country since independence. The minorities will take heart from the judgment.
Many Muslims in Gujarat have said that they “feel we may get justice.” They now speak out, something they had not done out of fear. The High Court judgment has once again proved that the noise of communalists, however loud, cannot drown secular voices. Yet the party has found in Varun Gandhi a person who has no hesitation in making hate speeches or poloraising the society. Varun Gandhi is Jawaharlal Nehru’s great grandson and son of Menaka Gandhi, wife of late Sajnay Gandhi. Because of domestic quarrels, Indira Gandhi turned Menaka Gandhi out of the house. Sanjay literally ran the government during the emergency (1977-79). He too had an anti-Muslim streak. He bulldozed Turkman Gate habitation at Delhi and forcibly transferred the entire Muslim population to somewhere outside.
Varun Gandhi has said—it is recorded on CD—Yeh panja nahi hai, yeh kamal ka haath hai. Yeh kat** ke galey ko kaat dega chunaav ke baad…Varun Gandhi kaat daalega! (This is not the (Congress symbol) ‘hand’, this is the hand of the ‘lotus’. It will cut the throat of the (derogatory reference to a Muslim) after the elections…Varun Gandhi will cut…) Badey daraawne naam hotey hain inke…Karimullah…Mazharullah…agar raat ko kabhi dikh jaayen..to darr rahen hain…(These people have such scary names…Karimullah, Mazharullah…If you ever see them at night, you’d be scared…). In logon ko pakad pakad ke nasbandi karaana padega… (Need to pick them up, one by one, and sterelise them).
Varun Gandhi, a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha candidate from UP, was first on the defensive, saying that he never uttered the words attributed to him. He said the CD was doctored. The Election Commission asked the state government to take a notice of his objectionable speeches. Fearing arrest, he first applied for anticipatory bail. But then the RSS parivar reportedly told him that he should offer arrest because the jail would give him a hallo of martyrdom. He withdrew the bail application. But the BJP and its extremist formation, the Bajrang Dal, used the opportunity of is appearing before the court to wage a pitched battle against the police. In the process they got uninterrupted live coverage on TV networks—something the saffron brigade and Varun wanted.
On the other hand, Menaka Gandhi made a political capital out of criticism voiced against Varun. It was the conspiracy of the Congress and UP Chief Minister Mayawati, Maneka said. Then Mayawati ended the drama by detaining him under National Security Act (NSA) which does not provide for a trial but an assessment by a screening committee, headed by a High Court judge, for the extension of detention.
It can be argued that NSA should not be utilized for matters relating to elections. The executive that invokes NSA can be motivated by political considerations. At the same time, there is something in the plea that the speakers who try to destroy the very fabric of the country cannot be allowed to spread venom. The BJP feels that it is too big a punishment for an instance of indiscretion. But should those who try to challenge the basic structure of the constitution—pluralism—get away with a court case which is bound to stretch for months?
The BJP does not own what Varun has said because his utterance has spread a sense of horror across the country. People do not want to be divided as Hindus and Muslims, the bane of the nineties. The BJP seems to realise this. At the same time, the party sees in Varun a younger Narender Modi who plugs the Hindutva line with the same gusto and conviction. BJP leader L.K.Advani has said from election rostrums that he wants his party candidates to show restraint in their speeches. Yet the BJP is projecting Varun as a hero even though he is hitting at the country’s unity. Advani’s ally, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery from Maharashtra, writes in his paper Samana that he has “at last found a Hindu (Varun) speaking as a Hindu.”
The dilemma that the BJP faces is that it does not want to dilute its basic agenda, a Hindu rashtra, but finds itself pitted against the country which has grown secular in temperament. The party found to its horror after the last Lok Sabha election that the Congress, with pluralistic credentials, won. Another consideration before the BJP is that it would have to find allies from within the contesting secular parties to reach the magic figure of 272 in the 545-member Lok Sabha. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it leads has already lost the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh and the formidable Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. The Janata Dal (United) which is the BJP’s ally in Bihar, both in the government and in the election front, is a doubtful ally because it has declared that it would favour all secular forces to join hands after the polls.
Yet the BJP is stuck to its basic philosophy of Hindutva. It should have learnt the lesson from Pakistan. The believers in an Islamic state got radicalised through madrassas and other places where fundamentalism was doled out. Ultimately, they came to support an idea of a theocratic state and began indulging in terrorism to establish one. What happened in Lahore early this week is what has taken place in different parts of Pakistan, to the bewilderment of people.
Politics and religion cannot be mixed in a democratic state. The founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, enunciated this principle soon after its formation. Mahatma Gandhi sacrificed his life while upholding the same truth. It is another matter that neither the Taliban in Pakistan, nor the BJP in India has learnt any lesson. Theocracy blinds both.