May 11, 2002


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Sajid Bhombal

What is new about Gujarat?

Things went horribly wrong for Indian Muslims -- as they did for all Indians, in fact -- in 1947. The pain and sorrow was best expressed by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in the poem 'Freedom's Dawn':

Yeh dagh dagh ujala, ye shab-gazida sahar,
Vo intizar tha jiska, ye vo sahar to nahin

[This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,
This is not the dawn that we were waiting for.]

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, once known as the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, turned into a rabble-rouser and demanded 'Pakistan'. As noted by a Pakistan-born historian Ayesha Jalal in her book The Sole Spokesman, even he did not know what that 'Pakistan' was all about. Finally he got a 'mutilated and moth-eaten' Pakistan. And even that died with him. Now broken in two, what remains of it is there for all to see.

But the biggest victims of the worst political blunder of the subcontinent -- the two-nation theory -- are Indian Muslims, who were left 'high and dry', to use Jalal's words again.

It is to the credit of the Indian leadership and, of course, the vast number of Hindus that India has remained secular.

It is easy to self-congratulate; hence I quote a Pakistani intellectual, the late Dr Eqbal Ahmed. In an interview, in 1998, he said: "I think the Indian Muslim identity was very much shaken by the partition of India in 1947. They became confused about what it means, and who they are. Surprisingly, 50 years later, and this may be a great achievement of Nehru and Gandhi's secular ideals, the Indian Muslim feels quite Indian. Not an outsider. He feels that he's Indian, and he's going to bloody well stand up and fight for it. 'Punishments will be taken here, and finally the day of counting will be done here,' that's their outlook. They have that sense of Indianness. It's very impressive.

"It is an important achievement also of that Muslim leadership which stayed in India and which opposed the idea of Pakistan, people like Abul Kalam Azad."

Indian secularism has achieved this much that even a Pakistani thinks it 'impressive'.

It is this 'impressive' achievement, which is threatened every time a Gujarat happens. We have seen Gujarats before, we have come out of them, perhaps more 'impressively' than before.

It is of course easy for the prime minister to tell the world community not to give us lectures on secularism. It is easy for me -- to sit in front of my laptop -- and glorify Indian secularism.

But let us put ourselves in the place of a father whose daughter was raped in front of him and her naked body thrown out on the road. Or a daughter whose father never returned, torched to death in a train compartment.

What does Indian secularism mean to them? How would they look at the society in which they had to suffer these barbaric acts? No matter which religion they belong to, these people are Indians -- and will remain Indians -- who have probably lost faith in Indian secularism forever. Every Gujarat adds to the number of such people in India, that is new about Gujarat, Mr George Fernandes.

India is a noisy democracy. The debate in Parliament on Gujarat was noisy, and probably politically motivated. But it was democracy at its best, which forced the BJP to change its course from 'Modi our hero' to 'okay, we made "some" mistakes, now let us get together and correct them.'

It is obvious that we will need to do a thorough introspection on Gujarat once peace returns. As a senior columnist Tavleen Singh wrote recently, the days of simplistic solutions are over. She noted, "Once the violence abates in Gujarat and the time comes to stitch together its torn social fabric, we need to go deeper -- much deeper -- into understanding what has gone wrong than we have so far."

The question is, does our political leadership have the required political will or even capability to do that? Our political class is totally cynical and opportunist. The best example is George Fernandes. This old 'Socialist' guard, not long ago, minced no words in castigating the 'fascist and divisive forces', till he realised that his dream of becoming the defence minister of India lay in associating with those very forces. He was so enthusiastic in the defence of Modi that someone called him 'the Defence Minister of Narendra Modi'. Even L K Advani -- widely perceived as a hardliner -- had to snub him openly.

George Fernandes of course -- like any other politician -- clarified that 'his remarks were made in the context of pointing out the hypocrisy of the Congress'. In an attempt to expose the hypocrisy of the Congress, he exposed his own.

This is the problem with the Indian political class. No one seems to be interested in the real point of debate. Everyone is happy to hit back at others, even if they have to stoop to the lowest level.

Even a cursory look at the way past Gujarats have been handled doesn't give us any reason to be optimistic that the real culprits of Godhra and Gujarat will ever be brought to book, though innocent Indians lost their lives.

Did anyone get punished for the 1984 Delhi riots?

Did anyone get punished for the 1992 Mumbai riots? The Shiv Sena-BJP government refused to act upon the Srikrishna Commission report. When the Democratic Front came to power, the report was reduced to a comical drama between Chhagan Bhujbal and Bal Thackeray.

What about the Mumbai bomb blasts? Too much is made of the ISI's protection of Dawood Ibrahim. He is deadwood for the ISI if his network in India is wiped out. Nine years have passed since the blasts (and for more than half of that period, we had the 'ultra nationalist' Shiv Sena-BJP government in power), did anything happen to Dawood's network, which is operating right under the nose of the Mumbai police? The underworld works hand in glove with politicians of every hue. Dawood Ibrahim's mother got a passport with the help of an influential politician, while common Muslims have been suspected.

On Gujarat, both the central and the state governments got it all wrong, right from the beginning.

Is Gujarat a 'reaction' to Godhra? Of course it is. But that is not the point. The point is -- is this kind of 'reaction' justified? Do those in government who try to justify it deserve to be in power? Is this going to be the 'justice system' in BJP-ruled India?

The BJP projected Modi as a 'Hindu hero'. An unnamed BJP leader told in Goa that 'every Hindu -- anywhere in India -- will vote Modi'. For a moment forget about Muslims, forget about charges of communalism, forget about the evaluation of the dead. What extraordinary thing has Modi done to be called a hero? What action (or lack of it) by him will lead 'Hindus' to vote for him anywhere in India?

A government is called a government because its primary function is governance. Modi failed to govern when it was needed the most. How could a man who failed in his primary duty ever be a hero? Unless, of course, the BJP thinks allowing criminals to kill, burn and rape innocent people is an act of heroism.

Yes, India desperately needs a hero, but not of the Modi kind. We need a hero who can fight and punish communal elements; in whichever form and whatever colour they come.

It is high time our political class realises that if they are serious about taking India to its rightful place in the international community, they need to rise above selfish goals. It needs to treat Gujarat in a serious manner and not see it as vote-bank politics. We need a prime minister who takes Gujarat much more seriously than worrying about his face when he goes abroad.

The Muslim community also needs to understand that the responsibility of strengthening Indian secularism also lies on its shoulders as much as on the majority community. This is too serious a matter to be left to the non-existent 'Muslim leadership'. It is on the social front that the community needs to work hard to remove the mistrust in the majority community. Every Godhra only increases this mistrust.

The Muslim community is grossly ill served by Muslims who have a voice. There are too few Rafiq Zakarias and Shabana Azmis. Those Indian Muslims who can make a difference need to stand up and be counted. For too long the image of the community has been allowed to be tarnished by mullahs and so-called 'Muslim leaders', who are just self-serving opportunists.

It is not my case that every Indian Muslim should wear his/her 'Muslimness' on the sleeve. In fact, I believe in the contrary. But there are times (like we are going through now) when Indian Muslims with a voice have a role to play. Failure to do so will only push the community further into the hands of communal forces.

In today's world, perception has become more important than reality. The image of Muslims, whether we like it or not, is not projected very well. And Muslims are equally responsible for that.

If we don't want another Gujarat, every Indian, not only the political class, has a role to play. Only then will we get an India of our dream. I started with Faiz, it is only appropriate that I end with his verse, from the same poem, more optimistic than the one quoted in the beginning.

Falak ke dhasht mein taaron ki aakhri manzil
Kahin to hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka sahil
Kahin to jake rukegi safina-e-gham-e-dil

[In the desert of the sky, final destination of the stars,
Somewhere would be the shore of the sluggish wave of night
Somewhere would halt the boat of the grief of pain]

Postscript: In my previous article, I had accused the prime minister of speaking in a 'we and them' language. That was based on media reports. Going by the actual speech he delivered, made available very late, it seems he did not use that language. I apologise to the prime minister and the readers on that point, though I stand by my criticism of him on other points.

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