By Sadanand Patwardhan
27 April, 2011
Some fifteen or twenty year ago Madhu Kishwar had co-authored a report. The report was called – Riot After Riot. It was an independent & honest investigation into the anatomy of what appears to be a “ communal frenzy” that goes by the name of “Riots”. Riot is understood to be a spontaneous flare up of uncontrollable emotions that end up in a violent clash between groups. When investigating team visited the towns immediately in the aftermath of riots, it found some unmistakable characteristics common to all. Invariably one community was affected more than the other; shops, homes or in general property of a particular community in a locale was selectively targeted with deadly precision, so much so that nearby property of the other community miraculously escaped the arson; usually the number of fatalities tended to be much higher than those wounded; and usually there were tangible benefits to be harvested from the communal discord. These symptoms inexorably pointed to premeditation & advanced preparation. Just to amplify this issue, in case of a genuine & spontaneous flare up of passions, the two groups are likely to come to blows with whatever comes to their hands, and in the ensuing melee are likely to wound or maim each other more rather than kill. The report was right in concluding that in most cases that pass as riots are in reality pre-planned and engineered pogroms executed by political actors. Since Congress has ruled for most of the decades out of the six+ since independence, obviously it attracts lion’s share of the blame for engineering riots. It is this fact that Kishwar brings out forcefully in her latest opinion piece in The Outlook : “ Secular Fatwas ”. But if other parties have not matched the “performance” of Congress, it is not due to lack of intent but rather lack of opportunity and of power. She argues that Narendra Modi’s acts of commission and omission in 2002 need to be impartially investigated and the guilt should be appropriately punished. But she also holds that BJP’s “track record” pales in comparison with the machinations of the Congress, and cites Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi; role played by Zail Singh as Home Minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in early 80s to bring Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, an extremist preacher of Damdami Taksal, from relative obscurity to forefront only with the view of checkmating Akali Dal in Punjab; or the repeated rigging of elections in J & K that lead to the birth and sustenance of separatist movement in Kashmir. All these are well established facts though they may not be uppermost in popular imagination, and it is also true that these criminal acts of Congress have overwhelmingly gone unpunished. This remarkable marshalling of facts from India’s contemporary history is subsequently and almost immediately met with a singularly inexplicable certificate of “overall good conduct” given to Congress : “ There are times when the Congress party has actually lived up to the highest values of Indian democracy and some of our best contemporary politicians have emerged out of the Congress fold ”. Purport of this overall good conduct certificate becomes clear when in the next paragraph she accuses the “secular civil society” of having cosy relationship with the Congress High Command, while it shuns the BJP as a pariah. This then is branded as an “ideological bias” that facilitates choosing the communalism of Congress over that of BJP. None of the 3 ladies she has mentioned have given, to my knowledge, a certificate of good governance to Congress or have condoned its communal acts, nor are they close to High Command if that is an oblique reference to membership of NAC.
One has to approve of the fact that Kishwar has been brutally honest upfront of her intentions when she begins her article with : “ The disdain with which leading lights of the anti-corruption movement –Mallika Sarabhai, Medha Patkar, Kavita Srivastava et al–are treating Anna Hazare, by publicly chastising him for a little statement he made praising Narendra Modi’s rural development work in Gujarat…. ” In this single sentence, she crystallizes the entire essence of her discourse as one shall soon see. Yet, this preconceived mind set makes her blind to inherent contradictions in her thesis. How are these ladies the “ leading lights ”?, when she herself points out the preponderance of saffron at Jantar Mantar as will be seen later. Nor are the ladies she targets lead the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement, where Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh, Kejariwal, Ravi Shankar, Ramdev, etc. are the prominent faces. The 3 ladies she picks upon are as much there to lend their support to anti-corruption movement as may be Kishwar herself is inclined to. Kishwar’s apparent concern for Anna Hazare makes her disregard the circumstances leading up to the point where he made the now “famous” statement about Narendra Modi & Nitishkumar : “ I am not in support of any party, but the work they have done at the grassroots level is needed. The rural development they have done should be imitated ”. She tries to gloss over it by calling it “ little ”. During the days of his fast, there were slogans raised against the entire political class with hopes expressed of feeding it to vultures. Uma Bharati was insulted at the venue & Hazare had to apologise to her later. All this took place when as Kishwar approvingly points out that “ the mass base of this movement has been in large part provided by people like Baba Ramdev and Sri Ravi Shankar and that saffron flags outnumbered red flags ”. Hazare may not have favoured such slogans, but nor did he disown them. In such climate of distrust of all politicians – birds of same feather flocking together irrespective of the colour of the flags, Hazare’s certificates to Modi or Kumar did invite disapprobation of most because it was so misplaced. It neither suited the occasion nor the general mood of even the “mass base” mobilised for the occasion. What Kishwar calls “ Disdainful chastisement ” of Hazare hardly befits the press statement issued by National Alliance Peoples Movements (NAPM), which at its most crucial point reads, “… All of this clearly indicates a betrayal of rural needy population for his (Modi’s) corporate vision. We surely would join many of Gujarat’s progressive activists who know the ground reality and the atrocities against the dalits, adivasis, minorities and other downtrodden population to tell Anna that he should stay away from supporting politicians until and unless they prove their mettle and commitment to people’s causes . We agree with the letters written by activists Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah to Anna, seeking an explanation ”. Does this sound like a threat to dislodge Hazare from the head of the movement? Can they so unseat Hazare, if the backbone of the movement is provided by Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as pointed out by Kishwar? And since when has disagreeing with “one’s own leader” become breach of “ elementary norms of civility ”? Unless, it is Kishwar’s case that a “leader” should be treated like a patriarch, who rules with an iron hand & brooks no dissent. Those who are genuinely concerned about true participatory democracy in fact lament the fact that each and every political party in India lacks inner democracy. One would like to imagine that if a rare Congress or BJP worker discovers a backbone to question a Sonia Gandhi or a Narendra Modi, then Kishwar would be upfront defending that person’s democratic credentials. NAPM has been questioning the current paradigm of “growth & development” pursued by the Indian State that is totally barren of equity & justice. The one that is most inimical to the poorest sections of society, who in fact are in need of the protection of the very State. NAPM has fought for the poor people with Congress governments as happened recently in Mumbai, Left governments as in Nandigram, Regional parties led governments as in case of Tamilnadu, or BJP governments as in Gujarat. One may have any other grouse & a valid one at that against NAPM, but partisanship is certainly not one of those that will hold water.
Kishwar cites the study that ranked in 2003 Gujarat 2 nd among all states on Index of Economic Freedom. But same Gujarat fell to 5 th position and yielded her spot to Madhya Pradesh in 2005; only to swap positions once again in the 2009 survey. Someone may see a friendly conspiracy among two BJP ruled states to share the honours in rotation. Surprise of surprise, Tamilnadu holds the first rank in both 2005 & 2009, and instead of resting on its laurels improves the score by 2%. It is the same state, which gave the ex-Union Communication Minister A Raja – now in jail for 2G spectrum scam, and Kanimozhi –daughter of DMK supremo & CM of the state- who is now charge sheeted in the same scam. Are we now therefore to conclude that corruption and index of economic freedom ( IEF ) are positively correlated? On a more serious note, the IEF is a product of Chicago School of Economics, whose patron deity was Milton Friedman, and who enjoyed really long life to have the satisfaction of seeing his “great doctrine” visit perdition in numerous countries & on vast swathes of humanity. Naomi Klein in her seminal book – “ The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism ” has busted the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. It bears quoting at some length, “ Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy. Sometimes, when the first two shocks don’t succeed in wiping out resistance, a third shock is employed: the electrode in the prison cell or the Taser gun on the streets ”. Friedman had observed, “ only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change . When that crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around ”. And Kishwar says at one point, “ The man they condemn as the “maut ka saudagar” seems to have recognized his folly in using the politics of communal riots and polarization. He has not let another riot take place in Gujarat, no matter what the provocation ”. Is this another way of proposing that the February-March 2002 pogrom was engineered to administer a shock, which deeply polarized the society & gave Modi a commanding majority in the December of that year, so that he could implement his corporatist vision unchallenged? Even Congress has embraced the Friedman Doctrine, albeit coyly, and would like to turn India into Gujarat, where political opposition to ruling dispensation is more or less conspicuous by its absence. But what shock congress may administer!
Congress has been an internal coalition of sorts of disparate elements, which at the time of independence held within its ranks from ultra-capitalists to socialists to Communists to traditionalists and what have you. Though it lacked the monolithic structure, it had no difficulty in passing anti-democratic & draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the first decade of the Republic under its avowedly most democratic PM J Nehru. A law, undoubtedly envisioned as a purely temporary measure, has been almost unceasingly in force for more than 50 years in some states of the North East. A woman, Irom Sharmila, by now utterly frail and in a delicate state, has been also on an unceasing fast unto death for 10 years to demand the repeal of AFSPA but surviving because the State won’t let her die & force feeds her. Yet, the State would neither offer honest talks to her the way it did to Hazare. Despite this, and the communal acts of Congress that Kishwar so ably marshalled, Congress still retains its motley nature though vastly diminished in character and stature of its leaders. Congress is at heart an opportunistic party, ready to do whatever it takes to self-serve and meet the need of the hour. An opportunist is bereft of any all consuming passion. It is not a party consumed by an ideology. It doesn’t have an Ideology that has an overarching vision and a recurring theme, which holds together and anchors all its actions. But BJP does. BJP has a passionate vision of Hindutva – whether it’s a religious or cultural or nationalist construct is hardly of consequence. What is crucial here is the fact that it would love to create a homogeneous society and nation of its imagination devoid of its vibrant diversity. Since coming into striking range of seizing power at national & state levels, it was forced and has made comprises to get into the seat of power. But along with its allied organizations like RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc. it sees this as only tactically expedient measure till it achieves its dream of majority on its own. What BJP Pariwar will do when that point is reached is precisely what bothers most. Its “Hindutva Dream” has repeatedly showed its true colours whatever artful efforts were made to hide it. The real fear is that the Anti-Corruption campaign may metamorphose into something, which may in fact let BJP realize its dream. Today’s youth that was & is the mainstay of anti-corruption movement is innocent of the excesses of the emergency. Moreover, it has absolutely no clue as to how the middle classes in those years fell for the fatal attraction, which emergency initially held. Trains & Buses will run on time, No strikes & go slows anywhere, No political rowdyism or direct action on the streets, Babus to report on time in government offices and in fact work, No postponing of exams and no delays in completing the syllabus, and no petty bribery to be extracted from honest citizens. Even an aged and seasoned Vinoba Bhave succumbed to its charms and declared it to be “Anushasan Parva” (Age of Discipline). Kishwar, unlike today’s youth, doesn’t have the excuse of being innocent of what happened in the years of the emergency. The promise of Order out of chaos has held its charm in different climes and times just as it did in Nazi Germany, where Hitler came to power democratically in the death throes of Weimar republic. Luckily for India, even BJP has been shown to have “feet of corruption”, the most glaring example being the ruling empire of Bellary Brothers in Karnataka. Nor has Mody shown the promise of Hitler despite many claims to the contrary.
What is galling however is the heady brew of innuendoes and facts that are distilled by Kishwar and with which she expects to knock over most. She has been trenchantly critical of Medha Patkar over the years. Recently she wrote series of article praising the Lavasa Township, which she had visited at the invitation of Ajit Gulabchand –the promoter of the project. NAPM has opposed the project based on several irregularities committed by the promoters and had appealed against it in Mumbai High Court. If Kishwar’s “independent investigation” and “scholarship” showed the project to be actually a paragon of virtues, which is what she found, then so be it. But the language she used in her report seemed to have been lifted straight out of the corporate brochures of Lavasa : “ The phrases like “cutting edge scientific knowledge”, “state of the art technology”, “world class infrastructure”, have become so hackneyed through over use that even glossy corporate brochures of some sophistication avoid using them all together. Bio-mimicry she describes as growing plants suitable for a habitat instead of planting exotic varieties. This bio-mimicry is certainly not. Uncannily, all these words including Bio-Mimicry are to be encountered on the promotional material from Lavasa ”. This certainly casts doubts over her independence. No one is above criticism. Not even Patkar. But Kishwar it appears for some unknown reason is viscerally allergic to Patkar. That she should allow such allergy to manifest itself on the unconnected platform of Anti-Corruption movement, which has many actors playing mighty roles shows serious lack of good sense.