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|October 6, 1998||
So is justice anti-Hindu?
When Vijay Pradhan, counsel for the Srikrishna Commission, resigned in April 1997, the Shiv Sena's counsel told the press it was a good thing Pradhan was gone, for he was a "biased man." When Time 's Anita Pratap was being cross-examined before the commission, another Sena lawyer called her "anti-Hindu" in court; which description of Pratap was repeated by columnists who like to fawn over the Sena. An early witness before the commission, also being cross-examined, was repeatedly accused, by the same counsels, of being anti-Hindu.
In fact, anyone who appeared before the commission and criticised the Sena was promptly branded anti-Hindu. As was a 1993 report on the riots, "The People's Verdict", by retired judges Hosbet Suresh and Shiraz Daud, that found fault with the Sena.
So today, after Justice B N Srikrishna has completed his inquiry into the 1992-93 Bombay riots and written a report that severely criticises Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena for their doings during those riots, is it any surprise that the scratchy tune is playing again? From Chief Minister Joshi, from Bal Thackeray himself and from many more, it warbles forth: Justice Srikrishna, too, is anti-Hindu. Pro-Muslim.
The Sena has learned, and well, that it pays handsomely to paint its critics this way -- as anti-Hindu, as denigrating Hinduism. In today's deliberately polarised climate -- one for which we have the Sena itself to thank -- Sena-philes know well the heavy punch that one epithet carries. What a smooth way to turn the faithful against your critics! After all, what red-blooded Hindu male -- always the preferred constituency of the Shiv Sena -- would not leap to attack someone, he is told, who is vilifying his religion? Someone, he is told, who is biased against Hindus?
Someone, in fact, like Justice Srikrishna?
Of course, through the years they have spent perfecting this tactic, the Sena's tigers have also been forgetting a simple lesson of life most of us learn as growing kitties. When things do not go quite as we would like, when we are scolded, when we get a poor score in a school test -- when such things happen, we might get away by saying something like: "Oh, that teacher hates me!" Or: "Mom likes my sister better than me!" Once, twice, thrice, we might get away. More than that, and the excuse starts leaking badly. Fewer and fewer people believe our bleating.
Eventually, we must ourselves face the truth: if the whole world is biased against us, that must say something about us. Not the whole world. In politics, it may work a few more times than thrice. But there too, much the same lesson holds. If it isn't already so, it will soon become impossible to believe, to persuade people, that every single Sena critic is anti-Hindu. Especially, but not only, because several of those critics are themselves devout, practising Hindus. People will start to ask: how can everyone be anti-Hindu? How is it that every time there is an unsavoury revelation about the Sena or its leader, it must be attributed to bias?
Perhaps, after all, the endless accusations of bias say something about the Sena. Not the whole world.
Perhaps Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde of the BJP had this in mind when he spoke to Frontline magazine (September 11) about the Srikrishna report: "We do not believe the report has any bias in favour of any community or person. That was the chief minister's personal opinion.... I also speak for this government. I do not believe the Justice Srikrishna report is biased in favour of any community."
Of course, such words mean nothing to the Sena. On October 1, Thackeray repeated the charge at a Shivaji Park rally: the report had an "obvious bias" against him and was anti-Hindu.
Note the equation he not-very-subtly wants you to make: those who criticise him and the Sena are, ergo, anti-Hindu. Nobody has stopped to ask: but when did the Sena get equated to Hinduism? Nobody, yet.
Take these two increasingly famous excerpts from Srikrishna's report, excerpts that seem to grate on the nerves of Sena followers. The Justice writes: "[T]he Shiv Sena pramukh Bal Thackeray ... like a veteran general, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims." Elsewhere, he writes: "The attacks on Muslims by the Shiv Sainiks were mounted with military precision, with list of establishments and voter's lists in hand."
Ask yourself the question: is there any conceivable way these sentences can be described as anti-Hindu? Derogatory of Hinduism? Based on the evidence placed before him, on the witnesses he examined and the Sena cross-examined, on his entire five-year deliberations through all of which Sena lawyers were present, Justice Srikrishna came to the conclusions he sets out in those excerpts.
Are they really an attack on an entire religion? No, they are simply critical of the Shiv Sena and Thackeray.
Of course, quoting selectively from the report -- which, I know well, is all columns like this can hope to do -- can be used to support almost any claim about the report. If I say it is a model of fair and thorough inquiry, those who see wisdom in every word Bal Thackeray utters will say it is biased. Just as the press is biased (not forgetting leftist and secularist too), as Vijay Pradhan is biased, as Anita Pratap is biased, as anybody at all who says anything at all remotely critical of the Sena is biased. As Justice Srikrishna is biased.
Well, fine. Let's assume the bias and fling every existent copy of Justice Srikrishna's report into the sea. Let's accept that this party called the Shiv Sena, and its leader, are shining examples of unbiased Indian worth.
Let's take a look then, not at that measly report by that judge, but at the party's own performance in office. Let's see exactly how unbiased, how pro-Hindu, pro-Indian, that performance has been. Hitch up your trousers while I run through a short list.
The chief minister has himself admitted that his government cannot now keep a major election promise: to take drinking water to all of Maharashtra's thirsting villages. Crime in Bombay, by all accounts and by the fears of ordinary Bombayites, is at a level never touched before: everyone admits to feeling a greater insecurity.
("[T]he law and order situation in the metropolis is causing concern to citizens", begins a typical news report I found). Everyone, except the ever-expanding tribe of men who surround themselves with crack gun-laden security at our expense. The roads in the city are in the worst shape they have ever been. Work on various flyovers is proceeding at a pace so slow that traffic around them promises to be snarled for years to come.
There's more. In nearly four years in office in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has built all of 2,000 of the 800,000 free houses -- 0.25 per cent -- for slumdwellers that it promised to build in five years. While this scheme was originally supposed to finance itself, that idea has been revised. A new state-owned company, the Shivshahi Punarvasan Prakalp Limited, has been formed to run the scheme, landing an already strapped government with a Rs six billion debt.
Not that it is building any more houses anyway.
The flyovers, the slum housing scheme and much else have pushed the state into a financial crisis so severe that its own Finance Minister Mahadeo Shivankar wrote to the CM some months ago expressing serious concern about the situation. Bureaucrats in the finance and planning departments prepared a note for the CM that says the government will have to borrow Rs 44 billion "just to pay the increased wage bill and the additional cost of debt servicing. And such borrowing becomes self-perpetuating".
In fact, the borrowings "are increasingly being used to finance administrative expenditure, interest and debt payments, much to the detriment of development expenditure, capital formation and investment."
Now, add to all that the mud-slinging over Srikrishna's report.
OK, so the government is unwilling to accept the report. So why won't it act to punish the guilty itself? After all, 900 people were in fact slaughtered. Their murderers are free and unpunished, roaming our streets. If Justice Srikrishna's report is so biased, why won't this unbiased government take action against riot criminals?
The truth is simple. Despite claims of a glorious unbiased Hindutva, this government has done close to nothing that benefits anyone: Muslim, Hindu, farmer, Maharashtrian, city-dweller. Indian. (Well, it did rename Bombay to Mumbai). It certainly has no interest in bringing justice to bear on riot criminals.
If Srikrishna's report is anti-Hindu, what would you call a record of indifference and failure such as this, that lets down millions of ordinary people? Ordinary Indians?
You see, the Sena and its hangers-on can try for now to bury the Srikrishna report in bluster about bias. But it won't stay there for long. People will start asking the questions it raises. They will tire of the easy equation the Sena makes only to cover up its misdeeds. They will see that Hinduism's true wisdom has nothing to do with those misdeeds.
They will see that, just maybe, bias lies in the eyes of the biased. Or, which might be the same thing, the guilty.
These two paragraphs from the report indicate, you're told, Srikrishna's inconsistency:
* Chapter II, para 1.5: "Considering it from all aspects, the Commission is not inclined to give serious credence to the theory that disproportionately large number of Muslim deaths in December 1992 was necessarily indicative of an attempt on the part of the police to target and liquidate Muslims because of bias."
* Chapter II, para 1.6: "The Commission is of the view that there is evidence of police bias against Muslims... That there was a general bias against Muslims in the minds of the average policemen which was evident in the way they dealt with the Muslims, is accepted by the officer of the rank of Additional Commissioner V N Deshmukh..."
Damning, you think? In paras 1.4 (which you did not get to read) and 1.5, Srikrishna addresses this charge made by "media" and "political leaders and ministers, past and current": that in the December 1992 rioting, the police showed bias in deliberately killing Muslims. That disproportionately more Muslims than Hindus died in the December rioting was cited as proof of this bias.
In para 1.5 above, Srikrishna comes to this conclusion: that this skewed proportion alone does not support the charge of police bias and selective killing in December 1992. Not that there was no bias, but that the disproportionate number of Muslims deaths alone did not indicate a bias.
Srikrishna did find other evidence of police bias, which he summarises in para 1.6.
What's more, para 1.6 ends with an important sentence that you did not get to read. Srikrishna writes: "This general police bias against Muslims crystallises itself in action during January 1993."
That is, para 1.5 addresses one claim about the December 1992 rioting. Para 1.6 addresses the January 1993 rioting.
Now think about inconsistency once more.
Ignore my selected quotes. Read the Srikrishna report for yourself. You will find it at http://www.altindia.net/srikrishnareport.htm
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