By Praful Bidwai
The Mumbai session of the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party will go down as a Hindutva watershed for anointing Narendra Milosevic Modi as its supremely important, indispensable leader and its likeliest Prime Ministerial candidate in the next Lok Sabha elections.
Mumbai thus takes forward a process begun at the April 2002 national executive in Goa, which killed all hope that the party, then in power at the Centre, would dismiss Mr Modi for the butchery of more than 1,000 Muslims, and bring a modicum of justice to its victims.
In Goa, Atal Behari Vajpayee cast off his “moderate” mask once and for all. He made a disgraceful 180-degree turn from condemning the anti-Muslim pogrom as a blot (kalank) on India’s face. Instead, he equated Islam with aggression and terror in his infamous Lekin aag lagayi kisne? (Who started the fire?) speech.
He thus sanctified Mr Modi’s nauseating “action-reaction” rationalisation of the massacre following the Godhra train-burning incident, which was caused by an accidental fire, but was falsely attributed to an organised Muslim “conspiracy”.
In Mumbai, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—the BJP’s progenitor, ideological mentor, political master and organisational gatekeeper—caved in to Mr Modi’s demand to drop bete noire, RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi, as an invitee to the executive. The RSS’s abject capitulation led Mr LK Advani and Ms Sushma Swaraj to keep away from the concluding public meeting—a symbolic, but futile, gesture. Equally futile was Mr Advani’s anti-Gadkari criticism in his blog.
Earlier, Mr Modi refused to campaign for the BJP in five recent state Assembly elections in protest against Mr Joshi’s induction as election organiser in Uttar Pradesh by BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Mr Gadkari was himself handpicked by the RSS, which also backed Mr Joshi’s induction. Mr Modi defied the sangh, something you don’t generally do if you want to get ahead in the BJP.
The RSS, rather uncharacteristically, swallowed the insult meekly and gave in to Mr Modi. It extracted only one concession: Mr Gadkari would get a second term as president beyond 2012 through an amendment to the party constitution. Mr Joshi was humiliated and barred from the meeting. Worse, he was forced to cancel a railway journey to Gujarat, and fly to Lucknow.
Mr Gadkari’s second term slightly complicates, but it doesn’t undermine, Mr Modi’s plan to make a bid for the Prime Ministerial nomination in the 2014 national elections: he would become the BJP president following the Gujarat Assembly elections this year, which he hopes to win. Mr Modi will now have to look for another route to the nomination.
Mr Modi showed himself to be too petty-minded, parochial, vindictive, egotistic, and viciously self-serving to be a national-stature leader. Mr Joshi is no rival to him. He is little known outside the Sangh parivar and holds no public office. He cannot threaten Mr Modi’s career prospects seriously. Mr Joshi suffered a setback in 2006 when a CD showing him in a sexual escapade was released to the media and he resigned as the BJP’s general secretary. It’s not clear that he has overcome this and other disadvantages rooted in his fraught relations with parivar bigwigs
However, it’s plain that the RSS decided to sacrifice Mr Joshi, a sangh full-timer and fierce loyalist, and to indulge Mr Modi despite his terrible angularities and extreme individualism, and his role as a sharply polarising figure who cannot shake off the stigma of 2002. It calculates that these disadvantages are outweighed by Mr Modi’s ability to inspire the party cadre through his demagoguery, martial image, and vicious war-mongering.
Nothing captures this better than the rousing reception that Mr Modi got from party followers at the concluding public meeting amidst slogans welcoming Gujarat ka Sher (the lion of Gujarat). The RSS is looking for a quasi-fuehrer, an uebermench, the Supreme Leader, behind whom BJP cadres can rally in a warlike formation—no matter how incompatible such bellicosity is with democratic processes, and how it vitiates India’s social and political climate.
The RSS gambles that many potential allies who are supposedly allergic to Mr Modi could be made to fall in line with his leadership depending on how many seats the BJP wins in the next elections. (It’s widely expected to fall well short of the 200 mark in the 545-strong Lok Sabha.)
In the past, numerous secular parties, barring the Left, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party and Laloo Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and tolerated affronts to secularism and the rule of law.
That long list includes the Bahujan Samaj Party, Trinamool Congress, Telugu Desam, Biju Janata Dal, Asom Gana Parishad, National Conference, Janata Dal (Secular), Janata Dal (United), DMK, AIADMK, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Lok Jana Shakti Party, etc, besides NDA core allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, with whom the BJP has run state governments.
Here, the BJP’s weaknesses in relation to the Congress—lack of inclusive political appeal and voter support (which has never exceeded a fourth of the national total), upper-caste bias, and poor attraction for Muslims and most Dalits—become its strengths vis-à-vis the regional parties.
Because the Congress is present almost everywhere as these parties’ main rival, they find it expedient to ally with the BJP, which is openly opportunistic about joining hands with anyone while promising to keep aside its own trade-mark, sectarian Hindutva agenda. However, the BJP has over the years succeeded in advancing its programme, making Hindu communalism appear “moderate” and acceptable to the upper-caste upper-class elite, and imposing its will upon the allies.
This last happened in respect of the RSS-BJP’s unilateral, secret decision to conduct the Pokharan-II nuclear tests in May 1998, about which the allies weren’t informed, let alone consulted. For instance, defence minister George Fernandes wasn’t told about the tests till the morning they took place.
The BJP’s refusal to act against Mr Modi for Independent India’s worst state-sponsored pogrom, when barbarism ruled Gujarat, provoked some protests from the allies, but only the Lok Jana Shakti Party walked out of the NDA. Trinamool Congress and National Conference did so much later, without effect.
Even the JD (U)’s Nitish Kumar, who has kept Mr Modi at a distance in his native Bihar, failed to speak out against the pogrom, or order an inquiry into the Godhra incident as railway minister. Mr Modi escaped political punishment for the massacre, and was re-elected.
The repeated failure of India’s justice delivery system to bring the culprits of the Gujarat pogrom to book has cost this society dearly. The latest setback is the effort by the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court under former CBI director RK Raghavan to let Mr Modi off the hook for the massacre of 69 people, including former MP Ahsan Jafri, in the gruesome Gulberg Society case. The SIT’s final report concludes that Mr Modi had no role in it.
This defies credulity and insults intelligence. The Hindutva mobs could not have killed without let or hindrance without the complicity, if not collusion, of the state police, which in turn would not have played the role it did without encouragement or at least a nod from the top. This was documented and confirmed by more than 30 citizens’ inquiry committees, including some comprising eminent jurists and international academics.
Several police officers and bureaucrats have corroborated the account, which says that Mr Modi deliberately transported the bodies of the Godhra victims to Ahmedabad to provoke Hindu-communal violence. Even more pernicious, Mr Modi told senior officials late on February 27, the day of the Godhra incident, to allow the Hindus to “vent their anger”.
Thus followed the orgy of killing, arson and rape. In most cases, the police did nothing to restrain the murderous mobs. In some, they participated in the violence and especially the looting.
The SIT strenuously tries to falsify this account by deviously introducing new ambiguities while relying solely on those who collaborated with Mr Modi or were complicit in the cover-up. It discredits the testimony of police officer Sanjeev Bhatt on the February 27 meeting.
The SIT contradicts its own preliminary report, which maintained that Mr Modi adopted “a discriminatory attitude” towards the victims, and “watered down” the gravity of the situation; two of his ministers turned up at the police control room to direct operations.
The final report also ignores the logical analysis and further investigation suggested by Raju Ramachandran, the Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae. It rejects the eminently sensible suggestion that Mr Bhatt be put in the witness box to determine the veracity of his account. Worse, it says Jafri “provoked” the mob that dismembered and burnt him alive. Such fraudulent reasoning and viciously prejudiced reports are unbecoming of a half-way civilised society.
Yet, India’s top industrialists have rallied behind Mr Modi as an “efficient” “development-minded” leader. This combination of Big Capital and Hindutva could prove the undoing of the rule of law and Indian democracy. Mr Modi must be stopped in his tracks—to start with, in Gujarat. (IPA Service)