August 28, 2002


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Dilip D'Souza

Insinuation Rules

Thank such men as Praveen Togadia and Narendra Modi for the most recent installments in an increasingly familiar pastime. The other day, Togadia announced: 'There are two similarities between Mrs [Sonia] Gandhi and Mr [J M] Lyngdoh.' What are those similarities? 'They are Christians and both of them don't want early elections in Gujarat.' This time it was Togadia, but Modi has said nearly identical things.

Their hardly-subtle insinuation? That Lyngdoh's Christian name (James Michael) accounts for the Election Commission's decision not to allow elections in Gujarat now. In fact, Togadia continued, Lyngdoh has an 'anti-Hindu bias.'

It used to surprise me how unquestioningly such stuff is said and then believed. It doesn't any longer. Because bankrupt men, defending bankrupt ideology, are reduced to bankrupt arguments. Like this one. And when they make them, there is no shortage of gullible listeners willing to swallow it all whole.

Therefore, it counts for nothing that Lyngdoh might be one of the more respected bureaucrats of his time; that until he went to Gujarat, nobody had presumed that he was either 'anti-Hindu' or that his Christian name had anything to do with his performance on the job; that he is doing that job thoroughly, as we wish all IAS officers would. It counts for nothing, too, that Lyngdoh's colleagues in the Election Commission, neither of whom has a name like 'James,' co-authored that EC assessment of the situation in Gujarat.

None of that matters. To Modi and Togadia at this time, the only thing that does is that the man has a Christian name. Therefore, he is anti-Hindu.

You wonder: what arguments would these tiny men need to resort to if Lyngdoh had not been the Chief Election Commissioner? If that job belonged instead to a man with a name like, let's say, Praveen Modi? They would then have nothing to throw at the CEC. They might then be forced to actually address the CEC's criticisms and concerns about what's happening in Gujarat, actually work to build an atmosphere in which a fair election can be held in that state after months of murder. But those are tasks too difficult for tiny men to contemplate, let alone attempt. So they pounce on the lucky chance of the CEC's Christian name. Accuse him of an 'anti-Hindu bias.' Ignore everything he says.

By no means is this a novel technique: as I said, it is only the most recent installment. Nor is it one favoured only by members of Togadia's and Modi's ideological -- if that word really applies to what is only insinuation -- family.

Ten years ago, a report severely criticised the dam project so beloved of every politician in Gujarat, Sardar Sarovar on the river Narmada. On nearly every aspect of the project, it found neglect and apathy; thus such comments as these pepper the report:

  • 'There has been no comprehensive environmental assessment of the canal and water delivery system ... there will be serious problems with waterlogging and salinity. [M]any of the assumptions used in project design ... are suspect.'

  • 'Gujarat is unlikely to be able to resettle a large proportion of oustees from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.'

  • 'Despite the stated priority of delivery of drinking water, there were no plans available for review.'

  • 'Continuing confusion about who [tribals being displaced] are, and persistent denials that they represent a distinctive part of the cultures of the submergence area, raises a large question mark over the very possibility of their being successfully resettled and rehabilitated.'

  • 'The Sardar Sarovar Projects are likely to perpetuate many of the features that the Bank has documented as diminishing the performance of the agricultural sector in India in the past.'

    How would you expect a chief minister of a state to respond to such criticism? By asking for the so-far nonexistent plans to be drawn up? By insisting that the dam-builders do the jobs they have been neglecting? By presenting evidence to show that the criticism is unwarranted?

    Well, the then CM of Gujarat, Chimanbhai Patel of the Congress, didn't bother with any of this minor-league frippery. You see, the authors of this report were two men called Bradford Morse and Thomas Berger, and that little fact steamrollered anything else in Chimanbhai's mind. He knew just how he could turn those names to advantage. In October 1992, he dismissed the report with the angry comment that Morse and Berger, these foreigners, had no right to tell us 'whether tribals are Hindu or not.'

    Not that Morse and Berger had done anything close to that, but who cared for that piece of trivia? Nope, far better to damn the report with the insinuation that foreigners -- probably Christian foreigners -- were meddling with Hinduism. Chimanbhai knew just how powerful such an insinuation would be.

    Then there was Justice B N Srikrishna's report on the Bombay riots of 1992-93. It also came to some damning conclusions, sample below:

  • '[On 7 January 1993] A taxi in which two Muslims were travelling was set on fire in Pratiksha Nagar ... resulting in the two Muslims being burnt alive.'

  • '[On 8 January 1993] Some Hindu residences [in] Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari jurisdiction were locked from outside and set on fire by miscreants. [Six] members of a Hindu family and their neighbours were charred to death and three other Hindus sustained serious burn injuries.'

  • 'The attacks on Muslims by the Shiv Sainiks were mounted with military precision, with list of establishments and voters' list in hand.'

  • 'From 8 January 1993 ... the Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders of the Shiv Sena from the level of Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray, who, like a veteran general, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organized attacks against Muslims.'

  • 'From the conversation which could be heard by [witness Yuvraj Mohite, at Thackeray's house during the riots], it was clear that Thackeray was directing Shiv Sainiks ... to attack the Muslims, to ensure that they gave tit for tat and ensure that 'not a single landya would survive to give oral evidence'... There is no contrary evidence adduced by Shiv Sena or Bal Thackeray. The Commission sees no reason for not accepting the testimony of this witness.'

    Justice Srikrishna concludes by saying he 'sincerely hopes' that the riots will 'serve as eye-openers and lead to introspection and that all concerned attain the maturity to accept constructive criticism and mend their ways.'

    And how did the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena, now on to better things as Speaker of the Lok Sabha, react to the report? By now, you know the answer to that. He didn't have the luck that Chimanbhai, Modi and Togadia did, of being able to pick on Christian names. But that didn't deter him. Joshi and his colleagues denounced the Srikrishna report as 'anti-Hindu.'

    Joshi's denunciation went down so well with a receptive audience that Joshi never did actually address anything substantial in the report. Much as Chimanbhai never addressed anything in the Morse report. Much as Togadia and Modi know that alluding to Lyngdoh's Christian name absolves them of any need to address the issues the Election Commission cited in their decision on Gujarat elections.

    Each of these men knew, and people as tiny as them all over the country know, just how powerful this 'anti-Hindu' insinuation is. How the rest of us are so ready to swallow it. How it so effectively covers up neglect, injustice and criminality.

    Tiny men know: insinuation is enough.


    The Gujarat Elections 2002
    The Gujarat Riots
    Report, Yes. Justice, No.

    Dilip D'Souza

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