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1984 and 2002: How to bring trust back in the discourse

April 29, 2013 08:52 IST

Trust is no more, and no less, than the faith that rule of law works equally for everybody and that the State exists to enforce such laws without fear or favour. It is trust in old-fashioned government. Trust is rule of law, says Sonali Ranade

1984 was a despicable pogrom. From what I know, in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, a horrendous act by itself, Congress leaders organised Hindu mobs to extract retribution, in Delhi and elsewhere, from innocent Sikhs who had nothing to do with the assassination. A brute Hindu majority brutalised and killed thousands of innocent Sikhs at random. The pogrom established the principle that it was okay to kill Sikh A, B & C for the crimes of X, Y & Z.

Worse, in the following elections, the Congress used a series of advertisements to project the notion that, were it not for Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership, Sikh terrorists would have prevailed. Rajiv Gandhi won the elections with more than a two-third majority in the Lok Sabha. Hate-mongering, justified or not, had delivered solid electoral dividends. You can win elections by pandering to the majority by persecuting the minority, a lesson that was not lost on the Bharatiya Janata Party.

2002 happened in the glare of TV cameras but the script was the same. Following Godhra, a horrendous act of insane violence by itself, large Hindu mobs were organised throughout Gujarat, this time by the Sangh Parivar, with the active connivance of the Gujarat government. The idea was to teach the Muslims, a small minority, a lesson not written into the Constitution. It was okay to kill Muslims A, B & C for the crimes of X, Y & Z. Muslims were Muslims first, Indians second and individuals last. Collective punishment might violate the Constitution but, hey, what are lynch mobs for?

Following the pogrom, elections were held to the state assembly, and there again the vast Hindu majority elected a party that had actively organised the pogrom. Hatred had worked again. Hate-mongering, backed by a show of brutal violence, paid rich electoral dividends. Nobody bothered with the message the Hindu majority was sending to the nation’s minorities. 

Who made up the killing and rampaging mobs in 1984? Hindus. In 2002? Hindus.  Does it matter if they were responding to the BJP or the Congress’s call?  Who were the victims? A small minority, the Sikhs in 1984. A larger, but still a minority, Muslims in 2002. It does seem that Hindus may kill the minorities with impunity whenever it suits the electoral needs of our political masters. There is a short cut to power. It is politely called polarisation. But we know the true meaning.

That’s not all. The State, the major political parties, the BJP and Congress, and our evolving discourse now see citizens not as individuals with inalienable fundamental rights, but as a nameless, identity-less “member” of an amorphous group centred around religion, caste, gender or whatever. We are all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians first, and Indians second. We are on the slippery slope to being split into quarreling groups based on whatever identity that politicians find convenient to confer on us. We have lost our first names. Only the last one matters.

The State failed to punish the guilty organisers of the pogroms in 1984 and again in 2002. Cases drag on and on. Evidence has been destroyed, witnesses have been tampered with, some even murdered on morning walks. There is little possibility of bringing them to justice now. So there are advocates that we move on. Can we?

A democracy evolves from a body politic that has learned the virtue of rule of law for everybody; with no exemptions.  Democracy as way of aggregating and actuating the political will of people in fact becomes possible only after rule of law has been established. Violation of the rule of law not only negates democracy but also destroys it. 1984 and 2002 are dangerous for our democracy because they provide a shortcut to power to unscrupulous politicians. They can and will be replicated.

Yet, the change in our discourse after 2002 is more worrying than the lapses in implementing the rule of law. Post-1984, while the legal process was thwarted in order to protect Congress politicians, there was no effort to justify the pogrom as “necessary” despite the ongoing Sikh militancy in Punjab and elsewhere. The ideal of a secular State retained its primacy as a desirable goal despite obvious flaws in implementation.  If anything, the ruling party was contrite about the lapse. 

In direct contrast, post-202, a veritable army of ideologues has been raised not only to defend 2002 but also to raise the status of its chief proponent to that of a cult God. The change in our discourse is truly frightening for the minorities. Worse, the ruling party has miserably failed to restore primacy to secularism in the national discourse.  Do top Congress leaders feel handicapped by their own minority status in doing so? 

Our evolution as a democracy rests on trust between various individuals and communities. We can be cut and diced along multiple fault lines. Religion is just one of the dozen markers that divide us into different identity groups that can be mobilised politically. Today you divide us according to religion. Tomorrow it may be caste.  Then there is class, region, language, what have you. Our diversity can be used both to unite and divide. But hate is a stronger emotion than trust, although trust prevails in civilised societies ultimately. Hate can be used to divide.  Only trust can unite. We need to make trust triumph.

What is trust?  No, it is not some wishy-washy inter-faith prayer meeting. Trust is no more, and no less, than the faith that rule of law works equally for everybody and that the State exists to enforce such laws without fear or favour. It is trust in old-fashioned government. Trust is rule of law. 

We must restore trust. That’s all there is that we can do to make up for 1984 and 2002. Or for any other organised violence. When the State itself is a party to the violence, as in 1984, and more so in 2002, whom do you trust?

That is the problem before all our minorities, and it is this apprehension that we, the majority community, must address in a concrete fashion.

We must restore the rule of law to build and nurture trust and faith in our Indian identity. We must again be Indians first. There can be no exceptions.

Sonali Ranade