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May 2, 2002

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Arvind Lavakare

Accusations gone rancid, without remorse

If you don't like people, kill them,' screamed the seven column headline of The Asian Age newspaper dated April 24, 2002. Accompanied by subheads above and below, it was castigation most foul of the English question paper set by the Gujarat Higher Secondary Education Board for the Class XII public examination held the previous day. In effect, it was another media attempt to paint the state's chief minister, Narendra Modi, and his BJP government as worse than the ogre known as Adolf Hitler.

The second paragraph of that bylined report of Deepal Trevedie spoke of the Modi government poisoning young minds with its militant Hindutva that wanted the students to make a single sentence of five different ones including that which mentioned 'the Nazi solution'.

Trevedie's report was replete with reactions of shock and consternation from parents, teachers and sundry. To exhibit objectivity, it gave the views of the Gujarat education minister -- in the last paragraph. While no comment was made on the female minister's observation that the examination papers were set in August (meaning the condemned one was set before the Godhra affair), her mention of the possibility of the contentious question being in the school syllabus was contemptuously brushed aside by the reporter's parting hurrah that 'inquiries by The Asian Age confirmed that the questions were not part of the syllabus'.

On the next day, April 25, The Asian Age carried a report by one of its special correspondents in New Delhi telling readers how the newspaper's report of the previous day had created a furore during zero hour in the Lok Sabha, what with Congress and other Opposition leaders grilling the BJP-led NDA government for clarification.

However, that self-glorifying report was pushed to an inside page. Why? Probably because another report from another special correspondent -- in Ahmedabad -- was hardly edifying. It contained a rejoinder from the GHSEB to the effect that

  1. the 'poisonous' English paper was set in September last (six months prior to the Godhra-and-after affair)
  2. the criticised question pertained to a chapter by E M Forster that was, in fact, part of the school curriculum.
  3. the selection of questions was done in a random manner as is the nationwide practice
  4. the paper was set by a member of the minority community, and
  5. the report of The Asian Age was 'malicious, mischievous and provocative'.
Till the day of writing this [April 27] Deepal Trevedie and The Asian Age editor had neither stood by the initial blasphemous report of April 24 nor expressed the faintest regret for it, leave alone offering an unconditional apology to the Modi government and the GHSEB for the accusation gone rancid. Is that then the ethics and accountability of press freedom in India?

Take another recent example. At its conclave in Bangalore in March, the RSS adopted a resolution of six paragraphs on the Godhra affair. Its fifth paragraph went as follows: 'Although a few Muslim leaders hold the current interpretation of jehad as absolutely wrong and in no way support the jehadi terrorism, it should be admitted that these people have not been able to influence the present-day extremist jehadi leaders and stubborn mullahs and maulavis. The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha wants to make it clear that it does no credit to the Muslim community to allow themselves to be made pawns in the hands of such extremist Muslim leaders and Hindu-baiting political elements. Let the Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority.'

Now the language of the above may be crude and blunt and grammatically amiss -- all typical traits of the RSS -- but its overall reasonableness can hardly be faulted. Yet, the 'secular' community of ours plucked only the last sentence of the above to fling more calumny on the RSS and the Sangh Parivar.

Among the several condemnatory comments by the English press was an editorial in The New Indian Express of Bangalore. It ridiculed the RSS observation and pontificated that the safety of the people did not depend upon anybody's goodwill but on the Constitution of India; a couple of the Constitution's Articles were quoted in support of this view. This was amusing, for one cannot be more na´ve than asserting faith in a mere document rather than in the ground reality of living our daily lives in a highly pluralistic society.

And since the nation's Constitution had been brought into the picture, the edit writer may have done better if he had familiarised himself with the Constituent Assembly debates on the minority question. Thus, in the course of his speech on August 27, 1947, Pandit Gobind Ballabh Pant asked the question: 'Do the minorities always want to remain minorities or do they even expect to form an integral part of a great nation and as such to guide and control its destinies?' He went on to say, 'I think it would be extremely dangerous for them if they were segregated from the rest of the community and kept aloof in an airtight compartment.' And then addressing the minorities, he advised, 'Your safety lies in making yourselves an integral part of the organic whole which forms the real genuine State.' [http://alfa.nic.in/debates/ca.htm]. Note Pant's use of the phrase 'extremely dangerous' and of the word 'safety'. Pant, mind you, belonged to the Congress and became a member of Nehru's council of ministers.

Writing in the Marathi newspaper Tarun Bharat of March 26, 2002, M G Vaidya, the RSS spokesman, cites Mahavir Tyagi's view on the subject expressed during the Constituent Assembly debates. According to the published English translation of Vaidya's article, Tyagi had said, 'Before the minorities, there is only one alternative -- it is to be loyal to the majority and co-operate and gain the confidence of the majority.' Like Pant, Tyagi too was a member of Nehru's Congress government.

Today's Congress, however, is so deeply entrenched in vote-bank politics that it has dubbed the RSS resolution a part of a communal agenda. Its leaders believe that the resolution has 'warned' the Muslims to 'behave or else'.

As a matter of fact, Dina Nath Mishra, a veteran journalist, points out in the Dainik Jagran newspaper of March 22, 2002, that the RSS mention of 'safety' and 'goodwill of the majority' is a mirror of what the Niyogi Commission said in the mid-fifties. That commission was appointed in 1954 by the Congress government of Madhya Pradesh to go into the problem caused by a number of newly arrived Western missionaries effecting large-scale conversion of tribals and dalits in the state to Christianity. The commission was headed by M Bhawani Shankar Niyogi, a retired high court judge, and had six other highly respected persons as members. After extensively touring parts of the state, its report of 1956 had remarked: 'The best safeguard any minority can have is the goodwill of the majority community, and the right attitude of the minority is one of trust and confidence in fair sense of the majority.'

On this subject of the missionaries' activity of conversion that the Hindutva proponents oppose, three incidents of recent times readily come to mind as illustrative of the 'secular' obsession of making accusations against the Sangh Parivar.

In the case of the rape of four nuns in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, in September 1998, Hindu 'fanatics' were projected as being guilty of the religious rape. A French journalist wrote later that he was told by the victims themselves that the crime was the doing of a gang of Bhil tribals. And, curiously, of the 24 persons arrested by the state police, 12 were Christians. The police belonged to a Congress government, be it noted.

Soon after the gruesome killing of Graham Staines and his two sons [by a Bajrang Dal fanatic, who else] there was a report from that state [Orissa] of a nun, who had accepted a lift in a taxi, being raped by four men disguised as women. The English media lapped it up, blaming the 'fanatic' Hindus; the Christians, churches and all, were up in howls, protest marches and all. A few days later, the medical report on the nun ruled out the occurrence of rape; the injuries sustained by her were traced to an earlier date. And much later the Wadhwa Commission ruled that Dara Singh, the accused in the Staines murder, had nothing to do with the Bajrang Dal or the rest of the Sangh Parivar.

On February 2, 1998, Associated Press put out a report that an American missionary, Dr John Sylvester, had been forced by 'Hindu fundamentalists' to close down his school and clinic in Allahabad and take sanctuary in a Baptist seminary. It turned out that Dr Sylvester is an India citizen, not an American priest, that he did not run a school, and that he had never met the AP correspondent.

In none of the above cases of Hindu-bashing did the truth evoke an apology from the prosecutors -- just as none has come for abusing the GHSEB and mauling the RSS resolution on Godhra. The 'secularists', you see, have given a life-long immunity -- to themselves.

Postscript:

Speaking of conversions and minorities, of misreporting and expressing regret, this writer must confess to having erred in referring (in this column of November 7, 2000) to Mahavir Tyagi as being the one who, in 1978, introduced a legislative bill in Parliament seeking 'to ensure that there was no fraud, inducement or force in religious conversions'. In truth, that bill was the handiwork of O P Tyagi. The error has, it appears now, hurt the feelings of the followers of Mahavirji, the freedom-fighter and a well-known Congressman. An unconditional apology for causing that hurt is ethical and obligatory -- and is therefore offered now.

Arvind Lavakare

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