A Blame Game: Congress could have Curbed the

                                [ WEDNESDAY, MAY 08, 2002  1:40:14 AM ]

                               M V KAMATH
                               ONE question that keeps recurring on the recent riots is the role
                               of the opposition parties and the indifference, if not total
                               cowardice, they showed during all those grim incidents. What, for
                               example, is the nature of the Muslim psyche in Godhra? Since
                               Independence there have been at least four major communal riots
                               in this town. It has a centre for Islamic studies, the funding of
                               which remains a mystery. According to reports, the Muslim
                               community is divided in Godhra, and as recently as December
                               2001, there were apparently clashes between the liberal and
                               reactionary elements among the Muslims.

                               Reactionary Muslim elements have apparently again made
                               Godhra their home and no doubt the burning of Sabarmati
                               Express coaches was at their instigation. As of the moment, no
                               newspaper has considered it worth its while to make a study of
                               Godhra in all its ramifications.

                               A similar study is called for of the mindset of Hindus in
                               Ahmedabad vis-a-vis Muslims; why is it that Ahmedabad is so
                               prone to communal riots? Are we to believe that it is only after
                               the BJP came to power that communal rioting became
                               fashionable? And would it be correct to say that only Hindus
                               belonging to the sangh parivar took to the streets in an orgy of
                               burning, looting and killing?

                               What, one would like to know, were Hindus who are politically
                               with the Congress and other opposition parties doing when the
                               killings were going on? Why did they remain silent? Surely,
                               Hindus allegedly belonging to the sangh parivar are drawn from
                               the same economic class as the Congress or CPM Hindus?
                               Why didn’t these Hindus rush to the streets to stop the rioting?
                               Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi is being pilloried for not
                               calling in the army within minutes of being informed of the rioting.
                               But couldn’t the local Congress party have summoned all
                               Congress Hindus to come out and defend Muslims? Is that too
                               much to ask?

                               And what was Congress president Sonia Gandhi doing? Couldn’t
                               she have put in a phone call to the Gujarat Pradesh Congress
                               Committee chief and ordered him to send every Congress MLA
                               and every municipal corporator to march unitedly to the riot-prone
                               area in an effort to restore peace and goodwill? Additionally every
                               Congress MP — not to mention every opposition MP — should
                               have made an immediate beeline to Ahmedabad to defend
                               Muslims against the alleged sangh parivar onslaught. Sonia
                               Gandhi should have arranged it at short notice.

                               What is the point in mocking Gujaratis for taking to violence in
                               Gandhi’s Gujarat? And where were Gandhian Congress Hindus
                               when the killings and arson were going on in the city? What kind
                               of Gandhian spirit did they exhibit? If one Gandhi could march
                               through Noakhali to restore peace there, surely there must be at
                               least a few hundred Congress Gandhians who could have braved
                               the wrath of the rioters in Ahmedabad? If no one else would have
                               dared to, shouldn’t Sonia Gandhi at least have flown to
                               Ahmedabad to organise resistance to the rioters?

                               Time was when the Congress had a volunteer organisation called
                               the Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD). Volunteers of the RSD were always
                               available to control massive crowds that came to hear Congress
                               leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal
                               Nehru. The RSD was a disciplined organisation and its volunteers
                               had a vision — the liberation of the country.

                               Following Independence, the RSD fell into disarray and now has
                               practically vanished. Why hasn’t the Congress made any effort to
                               resurrect it? Could it be that the Congress knows that such a
                               body would attract no one from among the youth? There
                               reportedly is a Congress youth association.

                               The English media obviously is not aware of the fact that there is
                               growing resentment against it among substantial sections of
                               Hindus, transcending party lines. When Hindus — not just of the
                               sangh parivar — are attacked day in and day out by the
                               English-speaking chatterati that control the English media,
                               tension builds up among all Hindus, irrespective of their political

                               According to knowledgeable sources, the rioters were from all
                               classes and parties. The damage unwittingly being done to the
                               Hindu psyche by the so-called secularists needs to be
                               understood. It has so far gone unchallenged. The majority of the
                               Hindus feel assaulted from all sides. The silent Hindu majority is
                               quivering with anger at the writings of some of our English
                               national dailies and some of the television channels.

                               A foreign writer, Koenraad Elst, has described this tendency
                               among Hindus in India as ‘negationism’. The Hindus revel in
                               self-flagellation. It results in two developments: One, it
                               encourages Muslims to extremism and unwillingness to
                               compromise, and two, it further deepens Hindu resentment
                               against Muslims. We know with what disastrous consequences.
                               It is very noble on the part of educated Hindus to take all the
                               blame for any rioting on themselves. But these educated Hindus
                               look down on those less fortunate than themselves, attacking
                               their religiosity in unbecoming ways.

                               Here is an instance of action and reaction: The more the
                               chatterati look down on the hurt feelings of those who strongly
                               believe in their religion and their gods, the greater is the reaction
                               of the latter and the vicious cycle steadily gets enlarged until
                               emotions explode in unmitigated fury. This is not to suggest that
                               Hindu communalism should be condoned but one wonders
                               whether this would have reached the depths it has, had it not
                               been for the feeling that for 50 years in free India, Muslims have
                               been pampered beyond limits.

                               The media focus has been almost entirely on so-called Hindu
                               communalism, which one national paper has been pleased to
                               dismiss airily as majoritarianism. It is as if in India it is a crime to
                               belong to the majority religion. On the Ayodhya issue, for
                               instance, the national press has been uniformly hostile towards
                               the VHP which has only served to strengthen its resolve to fight
                               more bitterly than ever. Meanwhile, the question of helping all
                               those who have suffered grievous losses during the Gujarat riots
                               needs to be addressed.

                               Every MP gets Rs 2 crore each year for spending in his
                               constituency. The amount due to all Gujarat MPs must now be
                               diverted to the relief and welfare of the riot victims. Indeed, if
                               MLAs get similar benefits from the Gujarat legislative assembly,
                               those allowances too should be diverted to aid the riot victims.
                               That is the least that one can do to help them get back on their