September 30, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

The Akshardham aftermath

Of all the headlines on terrorism, none has provoked me more than the one in The Indian Express of September 27: "October 1 as anti-terror day: BJP says build public opinion."

Build public opinion??? Which public would that be?! The one in Rwanda or Rumbek?! Is there a single "public" in India whose opinion needs to be built against terrorism?! Here's a situation where it's the public that's screaming Go, Go Get The B*&^$%#@! While the BJP-led government shrinks and demurs like a virgin bride!! And they have the nerve to blame the Indian people for their own ineptitude and spinelessness! Which they then call "compulsions"!! I can't bloody believe it!

Venkaiah Naidu says: "It is time now to take further steps for totally eliminating and wiping out the terrorist menace from the country"! Excuse me?! Is *this* the f&^%$#@ time for that?! After Akshardham?! It should have been done years ago! Instead of escorting jihadis to Kabul! Naidu asks the people to rise above "narrow political and partisan considerations"! And for that, the BJP will hold nationwide meetings to mobilise public opinion! Which people would that be?! The ones who throw slippers, microphones and benches in the Lok Sabha?! The nationwide meetings are for them??! Or are they campaigns for the future elections?!

There's a Marathi word for it: "berad" -- utterly shameless, hardened, arrogant, insulting, all rolled into one. The BJP has become so berad that I landed up using more exclamation marks in two paragraphs than I have over 8 years of writing. It is sheer awe at unparalleled brazenness. In this year, the only utterance that matches the BJP's resolution, word for word, affront for affront, is Colin Powell's statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The right to resort to pre-emptive or preventive strikes is inherent in the sovereignty of a nation to protect itself." It leaves any and every Indian speechless...


What with the Congress (mourn-the-dead), and the VHP (channelise-feelings), and the BJP (build-public-opinion), each having secured a day for their pet themes, the Left, too, has reserved October 2 for "communal harmony." Because "certain communal forces seem determined to sharpen the communal polarisation in the country." No prizes for sussing that "communal forces" does not refer to Islamic terrorists.

I wonder, why didn't the Left organise a communal-harmony day after 58 Hindus were burned by Muslims in Godhra...?


Pinkos (believe it or not, the "ordinary folks"), perceive the government's alacrity in blaming Pakistan as a subterfuge meant to negate the possibility of Gujarat's Muslims having retaliated. Through some spectacular logic, "ordinary folks" explain that 31 Hindus -- "One of the terrorists stopped a [5-year-old] child who was crying as he had been separated from his family. The militant made the child say 'Vande Mataram.' The child kept on sobbing but the terrorists persisted. As soon as the child said 'Vande Mataram,' they shot the child dead" -- being mowed down by Indian Muslims would be an understandable occurrence, since it would be a reaction to the Gujarat riots, which were set off by... hmmm... could it be because 58 people were fried in Godhra? Naaah... that would throw out the entire panoply of complex, tangled tensions that form the tortured Hindu-Muslim relationship. So let's stop that train right there.

Methinks, "ordinary folks" would very much like the Akshardham terrorists to be Gujarati Muslims instead of Pakis. Maybe because that would give Hindus another piece of bitterness to hold against Muslims. And on to balkanisation...

Like you, I had no special information on the identity of the terrorists on the day I wrote the previous column. To me, the AK-47s, the grenades, a place of worship under siege, the indiscriminate firing, the hostages, all seemed to indicate our dear friends running amok in Jammu & Kashmir. And the "timely" massacre of Christians in Karachi bolstered that suspicion. So I was much taken aback when PTI, based on the leaflets found on the corpses, said that the terrorists were Indian. Nevertheless, I still found the statements of L K Advani, Narendra Modi and Shahnawaz Hussain -- naming Pakistan as the architect of the attack -- a tad too pat.

It's Saeed Naqvi who offers the most likely explanation for that haste: "Of course, many people... smirked when Advani named Pakistan as the perpetrator of the violence. However implausible, this was the only course open to him. The alternative, of playing up the two terrorists on the basis of the Urdu notes found on their person as belonging to 'a movement for revenge,' may well have sparked another round of violence in the state and possibly beyond."

In short, the BJP's damned if it blames Indian Muslims and damned when it doesn't...


The strangest reaction to Akshardham came from the stable of STAR News, the Rupert Murdoch-owned channel that's contributed most towards broadcasting the fiction of "Hindutva laboratory." (Former editor of London's Sunday Times, Andrew Neil, writes in his book Full Disclosure: "Rupert expects his papers to stand broadly for what he believes: a combination of right-wing Republicanism... The resulting potage is a radical-right dose of free market economics, the social agenda of the Christian Moral Majority...") In fact, STAR anchor Rajdeep Sardesai wrote in the IE, "[Gujarat is] the first successful experiment in the laboratory of Hindu Rashtra."

Therefore, it tickled me pink to see my friend Rajdeep patrolling the streets of Ahmedabad on the day of the VHP bandh mumbling, "the Gujarat bandh this time lacks the spontaneity of the bandh following the Godhra killings." He writes, "Even VHP supporters were forced to admit that Akshardham was not Godhra. 'The bandh in February was peaceful. There was more enthusiasm and support among the people,' observed one VHP supporter."

And here we were being told that as far as Hindus are concerned, there's no such thing as spontaneous reaction -- everything bad is preplanned by Hindu fanatics, including the Bombay riots. But now, Gujarat's suddenly become spontaneous. As Mumbai-based reader Sanjeev wrote, "Is there any medicine for selective amnesia?"


Another unforgettable midnight vignette was that of a solicitous STAR correspondent interviewing a group of Hindus who had rushed from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar "to help the injured, to donate blood and be of whatever help we can." The correspondent later wrote that "an unbelievably vicious attack was bringing out the best in the people of Gujarat."

That's right: the rats of the "Hindutva laboratory"...


So why didn't Gujarat burn after Akshardham as it did post-Godhra...? The main reason definitely is that the state administration was determined to prevent it and moved with lightning speed -- because it now also had had the experience, had been primed by a stalwart like Mr K P S Gill, and, most significantly, is facing elections.

However, that can't be only reason for the calm, no matter how much the "secularists" will push it as such. To my mind, we didn't see a replay because:

  1. The murderers were killed immediately -- blood got instant blood.
  2. Delhi politicians, including the Maino Congresswalas, rushed to Gandhinagar and made the right noises.
  3. Satellite television channels, especially Zee News, provided a fair coverage and didn't hint at justifications for the attack (remember the chaiwala of Godhra station?).
  4. The shrewd people of Gujarat latched on to the possibility of the terrorists being Paki jihadis.
  5. It was a case of 2, or at the most 5, assailants -- and not a large mob of Muslims representing an area shunned as a trouble-spot ("mini-Pakistan," Godhra's Signal Falia was known as).
  6. The months of carnage had released the pent-up rage, the local causes for which were many.
  7. All human beings are bound to, and must, feel guilt and shame about murder, arson and rape.


Yes, the television coverage on the day of the attack and the bandh was decent. Which is not to say that things have taken a turn for the better and there won't be cause for aggravation. Already, Shekhar Gupta has written, " terms of impact as well as gravity, Akshardham was a much greater provocation than Godhra. At Godhra, there was at least a background of altercation leading to mob violence. Here it was an entirely cold-blooded, calculated terrorist strike on one of Gujarat's foremost Hindu symbols, where babies and old people were deliberately picked out to cause the gravest possible provocation."

Such opinions are noted -- opinions presuming that the horrendous death of 58 kar sevaks, including women and children, returning from Ram Janmabhoomi is less grave than that of 29 Hindus in a temple; furthermore, justifying the arson with "background of altercation." As reader Tushar wrote, "The Hindu backlash against Godhra is not justifiable, not acceptable, a shame on Gujarat, a blot on the secular fabric. But the (supposed) backlash from two disgruntled youths against post-Godhra violence (which, of course, was perpetrated by VHP) is fully justifiable."

Journalists, it seems, never will learn, so caught up are they in their isolated "secular" world.


Here's another example on why the Press is losing its credibility: India-based reader Atul writes, "After seeing the coverage of the Gujarat riots on TV, I noticed a striking difference. During the riots, the stories on the news were about how minority families were suffering, rendered homeless by angry Hindu mobs, etc. But today, I saw the news on TV for a full half-hour and there was no mention of the grieving family members of the victims, not even a mention of the security personnel who sacrificed their lives. But there was one about how minority people have lined up in the hospitals to donate blood for the injured. This, with a screen shot of a hospital where young people were shown donating blood and a clip of the blood-bank staff talking about how blood is uniting people. I guess, when man bites dog, it's a story."


Then there are also those to whom the Shekhar Guptas must stand out like a beacon in the Hindutva darkness. Like US-based reader Venkat26: "The Muslim group in London did not make those comments as you pointed out. Even the Imam Bukhari did not make those comments. It seems you are the only journalist who has access to them, because in spite of extensive research, those comments are not mentioned anywhere... My life has a new mission. Defeat the Sangh Parivar..."

What to say...


Let me a end with a comment by Mr K P S Gill: "I think those who colluded to postpone the elections in Gujarat are also to share a part of the blame for what is going on in the state now."

We know which section of Indians -- here, as well as in the US -- has the sadbhavana of placing Gujarat under President's rule, don't we...?

Varsha Bhosle

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