Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu
The wounds of Gujarat should have healed a long time ago. It is now over six weeks since the outbreak of the carnage that the state festers and is still continuing to do that. We, who visited the refugee camps, felt for ourselves the explosive desperation raging in them. They are worried that this potentially volcanic situation is being treated with criminal negligence. The Gujarat scenario is no longer a regional crisis. Its reverberations span through the entire country, which is endangering the progress and undermining the character and cohesion of the country.
In a real sense, the destiny of India is at stake in Gujarat. If Gujarat is being (mis)used as a laboratory of communal politics, as it is well known to be, then it is inevitable that what has evolved there will surely be repeated elsewhere in the country. The current holocaust would not have happened or persisted in Gujarat if it were not for the electoral compulsions of the BJP outside of Gujarat. Thus, the roots of the Gujarat carnage lie outside the state territoriality. It is for this reason that all political parties are drawn into the vortex of this contrived crisis. Anxiety as to what this scenario portends for the country is deepening all over the country, and even among the NRIs. The barbaric events in Gujarat have already attracted adverse international attention which has thus eroded national credibility. Despite all these, neither the state administration nor the Central dispensation seems to be keen on putting Gujarat back on the rails. This is not accidental. The calculations at work here go beyond the electoral profit that the sponsors of the communal carnage hope to harvest in the state. Available indications point to a scheme of things that is more complex and comprehensive and which needs to be reckoned.
Gujarat signals a shift of emphasis in the Sangh Parivar strategy from the politics of hate to the politics of fear. For engineering a communal polarization and ‘consolidation of Hindu votes, fear is a better bet than hate for it is deeper, more potent and irrational. Accordingly, a massive whisper campaign is now spreading into the adjoining states that, because of the severe beating that the Muslims received in Gujarat, they are preparing for a bloody retaliation. They go on to say that Muslims are not known to take atrocities on them tamely. “Remember, the Sabarmati Express? So, no Hindu is safe, unless governments that are partial to us are put in place at the Centre and in the states. The survival of Hindus calls for the creation of a Hindu Rashtra.” Fear is the pipeline through which the poison brewed in the political laboratory of Gujarat is sought to be delivered to the rest of the country. The fires of mutual hate and mistrust could thus engulf this country with consequences that are too tragic to contemplate. And for the success of this strategy it is imperative that Gujarat continues to convulse.
This strategy cannot prove as effective as it is envisaged, unless the Muslims in Gujarat act in desperation. That can happen only if unbearable misery of the Muslim riot victims is prolonged. We are already being told by the government spokesmen that some of the inmates of the refugee camps are involving themselves in criminal and subversive activities. But, what we are not being told is that imprisonment is preferable to living in these camps for any length of time. Anyone who has seen the squalor, misery and degradation that choke them will be surprised that its inmates have taken this injury compounded by insult for so long and with such monumental patience. The readers would remember how upset Vajpayee was some months ago, with one of the best roads in the city, the road from the airport to the city, not being as smooth as he would have liked. In contrast, a month after the carnage when we visited the refugee camps, several of the inmates were still wearing the same clothes they were at the time of fleeing from their homes. Modi and his men know that no one can continue to live in these appalling conditions forever and remain sane and self-controlled. They are sure to degenerate into acts of desperation, yielding enough ammunition for stigmatizing the community as a danger to all Hindus. This would aid and abet the Hindutva anti-minority thesis, legitimized lately in Goa by Prime Minister Vajpayee himself which was followed with the ritual of a routine disclaimer as expected.
The desperation inflicted on the Muslims of Gujarat is not confined to the camps alone. Until the circumstances improve radically, the Muslims in Gujarat will, in effect be under house arrest. They cannot go out and earn their livelihood or resume their business activities. Fear has robbed them of freedom of movement. It threatens to rob them of their future too. It is this painful truth that is writ large over the inability of thousands of Muslim students to write the Board examinations, described by the government spokesmen as ‘boycotting the exams’. The immorality of conducting examinations when the state has failed utterly to allay the insecurity of the Muslim community stares the whole country in the face. This will cause the present woes and handicaps of the affected community to spill over to their future. These children, unlike their Hindu counterparts, will continue to be stamped with the stigma and burden of the riots for the years to come and will not be allowed to outgrow this bitter memory. Also, by making the victim community alone bear the brunt of the riots and by protecting all others from its adverse consequences, the government is encouraging the perpetrators of the riots. This cannot but escalate the resentment and anger of the affected community.
That being the case, we make strong appeal to our Muslim brethren in Gujarat and all over the country to meet this grave crisis with wisdom and equanimity, and we make this appeal, despite knowing that it is cruel to preach restraint to the victims, and not to their victimizers. In this they could be wiser for the strategy of Israel during the 1991 West Asia crisis. That nation refused to be provoked by Saddam Hussain’s Scud missiles into retaliation, and denied him the luxury of forcing a Pan-Islamic coalition to counter the global alliance crafted by George Bush, Senior. Any indiscreet reaction on the part of the Muslims, no matter in what state of desperation, will aid and abet the Sangh Parivar in the pursuit of their communal agenda. There are times when restraint, rather than retaliation, is the best policy and we are going through one such time.
Even as we urge the Muslims in this country to meet this crisis with exemplary patience, we urge the rest of the country to unite in rejecting communal politics as well as the injustice, bloodshed and depravity that are its necessary accompaniments. Communal politics amounts to an outright rejection of dharma, which is the sole, stable foundation for our national unity and integrity. We must wake up to the gravity and urgency of the role we have to play in a scenario that endangers the dynamism and the destiny of our country. No community can be singled out for systematic harassment overtime and expected to remain stoic about it forever. Human conduct in situations of prolonged harassment and hopelessness tends to degenerate into recklessness. If and when that happens, those who remained indifferent to the birth of this menace, not less than those who slipped into this trap, would be morally responsible for our collective self-destruction. This should not happen. In Gujarat, the identity of the nation lies sick and sullied. A body-politic that is indifferent to the agony of one of its limbs is simply gambling with its future. Today we can arrest this communal gangrene and prevent it from spreading to the rest of our country. But tomorrow may be too late. The time to act is ‘now’. Let us rise and build ‘the India of our dreams’ on the foundations of dharma rather than on the foundations of a-dharma of communal politics.