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Mainstream, VOL LX No 28, New Delhi, July 2, 2022

Democracy in peril | Sukumaran C.V.

Friday 1 July 2022, by Sukumaran C.V.

by Sukumaran C.V.

Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand are the editors of the monthly magazine Communalism Combat. The March-April 2002 issue of the monthly was titled as "Genocide: Gujarat 2002". The Editors’ Note of that issue of the CC says:

"The torching of bogey S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, in which 58 passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were burnt to death, is an unpardonable act. The perpetrators of this grossly inhuman crime must be tried swiftly and given the most stringent punishment. But, for the burned corpses of the ill-fated passengers to become the justification for armed squads of the ruling BJP and its ’brother’ organisations—RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal—to launch a pogrom that sits well with what the UN defines as genocide against the innocent Muslims of Gujarat?

Even during the unspeakable horrors that communities inflicted on each other in 1946 and 1947, all organs of the state had not been directly involved in stoking the fires. Not so in Gujarat, 2002. The chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, called the targetted attack in 16 of Gujarat’s 24 districts, a ’natural reaction’. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is guilty of worse: "If there was no Godhra, there would not have been no Gujarat," he said, at the meeting of the national executive of his party in Goa in mid-April. Both the CM and PM have opened themselves to the charge of complicity in ’crimes against humanity’.

The BJP, flanked by RSS, VHP and BD combine in Gujarat had laid their grounds well. Both Modi and his predecessor, Keshubhai Patel had systematically implanted, through insidious hate propaganda and school textbooks, the mindset to justify such a pogrom....

Dead bodies no longer resembled human beings: they were reduced—whenever they had not been burned to ashes—to a grotesque and pathetic sight that were a haunting reminder of the depth of hatred and the intense dehumanisation that the politics of inherent superiority and exclusiveness generates. Nowhere did eyewitnesses and victims, survivors and observers, put the crowds who terrorised them at less than 2,000; most often, even in far-flung villages, they were closer to 10-15,000-strong mobs, armed with deadly agricultural implements. Key men carried guns and rifles....

Rape was used as an instrument for the subjugation and humiliation of a community. A chilling and hitherto absent technique was the deliberate destruction of evidence—barring a few cases, women who were gang raped were thereafter hacked and burned.

Twenty-six hours after the Godhra tragedy, 58 bodies were brought to the Sola Civil Hospital for the arthi, vengeful slogans were raised. Thereafter, from February 28 to March 6, the raging fires of hatred and venom consumed 16 of Gujarat’s 24 districts.

Many ministers in the Gujarat cabinet are members of the RSS, VHP, and BD. It is, therefore, not surprising that survivors have named many key leaders of these outfits, even cabinet ministers, as mob leaders. Modi and his mobs have brazenly flaunted the CrPC, the Arms Act and the Indian Constitution itself. Should they be allowed to go scot-free, the very future of Indian democracy would be in peril."

Yes, democracy is now in peril as expressed in the Editors’ Note of 2002 March-April issue of Communalism Combat.

In the arrest and subsequent death of Stan Swamy, in the arrest and incarceration of Varavara Rao, Dr. Sai Baba, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautham Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Hani Babu, Safoora Zargar; and in the latest arrest of Teesta Setalvad and Muhammed Zubair, we are witnessing Indian democracy in peril as predicted by Teesta Setalvad and her husband in 2002.

Rana Ayyub, author of Gujarat Files, Muhammed Zubair, the co-founder of Alt News are also being hunted for their role of exposing the murky affairs of the politics of hatred.

When those who control the executive is hellbent on destroying everyone who talks against their politics of hatred and violence, it is the judiciary that ought to defend those who fight against all odds for democratic values. But the judgement of the Supreme Court bench of Justice A.M. Khanwalkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice C.T. Ravi Kumar dismissing Ms. Zakia Jafri’s petition against the clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to the then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, and 63 others, in the cases related to the 2002 genocide, not only fails the people of India but also equips the ruling establishment to further hunt human-rights activists like Teesta Setalvad. The verdict reminds me of Arundhati Roy’s essay Scandal in the Palace.

Those who believe in democracy can read the judgement only with horror. The tone of the judgement as shown in the following sentences of it is openly branding the activists as people "who need to be in the dock":

“While parting, we express our appreciation for the indefatigable work done by the SIT officials in the challenging circumstances they had to face, and yet we find that they have come out with flying colours unscathed. At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officers of the State of Gujarat, alongwith others was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge. The falsity of their claims has been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation. Intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years (from submission of complaint dated 8.6.2006 running into 67 pages and then by filing protest petition dated 15.4.2013 running into 514 pages) including with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted (to borrow the submission of the learned counsel of the SIT), to keep the pot boiling, obviously for ulterior design. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock, and be proceeded with in accordance with the law.”

The judgement praises the SIT and questions the integrity of the activists casting aspersions on their motive! What a dangerous precedent the Supreme Court bench has set! Teesta Setalvad and R.B. Sreekumar who wrote the book Gujarat: Behind the Curtain were arrested only on the strength of those sentences in the verdict. Modi administration has been waiting for such a golden chance and the chance is given by the most unexpected source—the Judiciary. Given the political atmosphere prevalent in our country today, nobody can hope that the SC bench could have delivered a positive verdict in Sakia Jafri’s petition. Of course, let it be so; let the bench dismiss the petition, but why those pernicious observations are there in the verdict!! A Supreme Court verdict which inspires a witch-hunt in a democracy is quite unimaginable and atrocious.

No wonder, the Modi administration has been hunting down Teesta and the like. But what surprises me is the silence of the so called secular parties, especially the Congress, on the draconian arrest(s). When the executive and judiciary join hands against those who unearth facts and speak truth to power, nobody dares to protest, it seems.

The best way to smother dissent and freedom of expression, the salient features of democracy, is to dub them anti-national. The right-wing organisations have always tried to eliminate dissent and plurality in this fashion. The irony as far as India is concerned is that it is the RSS, that has never been patriotic when the British ruled and crushed India, leads this war of ‘patriots versus anti-nationals’! It will be interesting and quite revealing to see the patriotism of the RSS (which remote controls the BJP) at a time when India needed it direly—during the tumultuous period of Quit India Revolt. Three months after the historic Quit India agitation was launched by the Mahatma, "a report from the Deputy Commissioner (British), Buldana district, D. O. No 174-S dated Buldana, the 28th Nov. 1942 reads: In regards to the objects of the organization, the information so far received by me leads me to the conclusion that the Sangh does not want to come into conflict with (the British) Government... The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh has however no plan to either fight the Government or even to oppose it. (Towards Freedom, Part 3, pp 3024-25)" [Quoted from the article "RSS Controversy: New Revelations" written by Analyst, Mainstream, March 11, 2000].

And imagine the BJP which is an offshoot of the RSS whose "patriotism" was certified by the British as quoted above lecturing patriotism to the people of India and imprisoning those who fight for the less privileged people labelling them anti-nationals. The RSS-BJP "thinktanks" have even started to call Teesta Setalvad a spy!!

PS: The future of democracy in India seems to be quite bleak. But I am an optimist and believe that Indian democracy which was shaped by Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Ambedkar will survive the deadly attacks it faces today. The history of democracy tells us many such stories. The following is one of them from the history of the democratic progress of England:

On August 16, 1819, cavalry regiments of King George III attacked the 60,000 protesters who were agitating peacefully for political reforms assembling in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, led by the radical orator Henry Hunt. In the cavalry charge, around twenty people were killed and hundreds were injured. This incident is known as the Peterloo Massacre and it inspired Shelley to write The Masque of Anarchy lambasting the authorities. In the poem, Shelley attacks the combination of power (God, and the Law, and the King) that oppresses the people. The fascinating feature of the poem is its eloquent portrayal of non-violent resistance. Timothy Bloxam Morton says that the poem has played an important role in inspiring Gandhian non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance is delineated beautifully and powerfully in the following stanzas of the poem:

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war. (Stanza 79)

And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, that let them do. (84)

With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away. (85)

Then they will return with shame,
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek." (86)]

People like Teesta Setalvad, R. B. Srerkumar, Varavara Rao and Safoora Zargar are those who "with folded arms and steady eyes and little fear" look upon those who slay democracy. The slayers will of course have to return with shame, and history will record the names of those who fight for democracy "with folded arms and steady eyes and little fear" in golden letters.

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