Home > News > Columnists > Saisuresh Sivaswamy
So where is your Raj Dharma, Mr Prime Minister?
April 14, 2004
A man's character is tested in the darkest phase of his life. A political party's character is tested in times of existential crises. And a government's character is tested by how it rises above the political moorings binding it to act in the welfare of the nation.
Rarely does it happen that the three are tested together; the Supreme Court of India, with its most unusual order transferring out the Best Bakery murder case from Gujarat to Maharashtra, has questioned the character of a man, the prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a political party, his Bharatiya Janata Party, and his government, of the National Democratic Alliance. The question begs to be asked: do you now feel good, Mr Prime Minister?
The issue here is not of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi -- whatever his popularity in his state he stands exposed for what he is before the rest of the nation. The issue is of how long the men who really matter in the BJP -- Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani -- will continue to shield the unshieldable, defend the undefendable, for the sake, one presumes, of the 20 Lok Sabha seats that are expected for the party from Gujarat, for the sake of holding on to power in the most brazen manner possible? For these are not yesterday's children taking baby steps in politics, these are veterans who have spent their entire life in politics, waste no time in proclaiming their love for the nation and its ethos. Today, more than Modi and his Nero-like administration (the Supreme Court's description, not mine), it is these two men who are in the dock, for their blind and tacit support to the horrific events of Gujarat riots.
In my couple of decades as a news watcher I don't recall such severe condemnation from the highest court in the land for any government, or an order of such far-reaching consequence. Rid of judicial outrage, the court has found the Gujarat administration, of the BJP, incapable of delivering justice. Is there a worse denunciation possible?
At the height of the Gujarat riots the prime minister had spoken of the need for Raj Dharma; the Supreme Court has found there is none to be found in Gujarat. The deputy prime minister had called the Gujarat riots a 'blot'; the Supreme Court has said 'the fanatics who spread violence in the name of religion are worse than terrorists and more dangerous than any alien enemy.' How does a party that claims to usher in new values, uphold principles in public life, deal with such strictures against its poster boy?
The court has likened the Modi government to Roman emperor Nero's rule; he is known widely today for fiddling while Rome burnt, but that was the least of Nero's sins. Nor was that the analogy employed by the learned judges. Roman emperors habitually persecuted Christians, often for their amusement, and by common admission Nero was the worst of the lot. His punishment of Christians was as bizarre as it was cruel. Throwing them to the lions, making them fight the gladiators, burning them. Juxtapose that imagery against that of the Gujarat riots, the photograph of the young man weeping for mercy that has seared itself into our consciousness, the heavily-bandaged child in a hospital. The court's order is a warning to all of us who call ourselves civilized that we don't forget that human misery.
Some in the BJP obviously have. If they did not, their election manifesto, their document for tomorrow's India, will have devoted a little more space than what it has for assuring the religious minorities that they are safe in their country.
If you have not read it, it is a florid document that speaks of making India superpower and lays down the roadmap. The first reference to minority welfare comes under a section titled Employment Generation Strategy, and this is what it has to say:
1. A Minorities Development Agenda will be unveiled within the first six months to focus on a 3-E program: Education, Economic upliftment, and Empowerment.
2. The Agenda will especially address the needs of those belonging to poor and backward families, ensuring that they get an equitable share in government-supported schemes in education, housing, etc.
3. The working of the Minorities Commission will be reoriented to address their developmental and welfare issues.
4. The NDA Government gave unprecedented encouragement to the promotion of Urdu language and to the modernisation of Madarasa education. This will continue.
5. A concerted effort will be made to increase minorities' representation in administration and public bodies.
Bravo, I almost felt like saying, but instead decide to go deeper into the NDA's vote-seeking pamphlet.
Under the head Social Development, there is nothing about security of life and property, although it contains subheads like food security, women's empowerment etc.
Next comes Governance Reforms, that talks of administrative reforms ('The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime could be protected'. The court's words, verbatim); judicial reforms ('Justice delivery system was being taken for a ride and literally allowed to be abused, misused and mutilated by subterfuge.' Ibid); political reforms ('When ghastly killings take place in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, it raises a very pertinent question as to whether some people have become so bankrupt in their ideology that they have deviated from everything which was so dear to him'. Again, ibid).
The NDA document saves the best for the last: national security, its dearest topic. Under internal security, comes this gem: 'There has been a significant reduction of communal and caste violence in the past five years. Our government shall further strengthen and stabilize this trend, and work towards realizing our vision of a riot-free India (emphasis the NDA's, not mine).' Either the person who added this bit has a ghoulish sense of humour, or is utterly unaware.
It is a roughly 50,000-word document, but the space given to the BJP's and consequently the NDA's Achilles heel -- protection of minorities -- is barely 1000. Does that say anything? Should it mean something?
Is all this too harsh an indictment of the BJP and its governance? We all would like to believe the Gujarat riots were an aberration, that they were a ghastly event. In a civilised society which the BJP affirms it believes in, the rule of law must be upheld, and the principle of accountability has to be maintained. The Supreme Court has held that the Narendra Modi administration has grossly failed in carrying out its responsibilities in this respect.
The question is, what will the prime minister and deputy prime minister, two honorable men, do about Modi? Will they continue to hold him dear to their bosom, mindful of the Lok Sabha seat count he will harvest for the party never mind if a few lives here and there have met with a premature end? Or will they put their morals where their mouth is, sacrifice a state for upholding what they proclaim they do?
This is a situation that will be keenly watched by all those fence-sitters willing to go with the BJP in this election. What incredible timing that all this is happening just as the votes are about to be cast in a make-or-break general election.
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