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India’s Far Right is Out To Violently Divide

No room for dialogue with the peddlers of violence

by J. Sri Raman, 26 September 2008

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The Daily Times, 26 September 2008

A debate over dead bodies

The Far Right, which pits the poor against the poor and the tribesman against the tribesman in its quest for power, is a foe of the Indian people as a whole

Democracy means debates. But debates are not necessarily synonymous with democracy. We in India have just witnessed two illustrations of this important fact.

This column has noted more than once the first of the deceptive debates — about the US-India nuclear deal. On paper, the issue went right up to the parliament, but the debate at every level was about its peripheral dimensions, particularly party-political ones of a petty kind. Scrupulously kept out, almost as if by common consent, was any scrutiny of the deal’s real implications for regional security and peace or India’s development strategy.

The second debate has come in the wake of some more violence of two kinds — terrorist and communal — that the country has learnt to live with. Even before New Delhi’s bomb blasts of September 13, a savage eruption of anti-Christian offensive shook the State of Orissa. The attacks on the religious minority, which had once enjoyed relative freedom from unwelcome Far Right attentions, soon spread to the southern State of Karnataka and, to a lesser extent, to neighbouring Kerala. Before we turn to the debate, some essential details.

Taking the whole package of violence together, only the part played by the parivar (the Far Fight ‘family’) is clear and confirmed. The true identity of the New Delhi terrorists is yet to be established. If investigations on the ‘Indian Mujahideen’, the alleged miscreants, have made any progress, the public is not privy to the information thus far. In Orissa, the pattern has been similar to the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in one respect: ambiguity about the provocation but absolute certainty about the bloody aftermath.

The truth about Godhra, the arson in a train that supposedly triggered off the massacre of a minority in Modi’s territory, is yet to be told. But Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and others have made no secret of the part of the parivar in the pogrom. Versions of the murder of a Hindu leader in Orissa, which provided the cue for the violent anti-Christian crusade, vary — with an ultra-Left group claiming responsibility. The Bajrang Dal, a militant member of the parivar, however, makes no bones about its role in the terrible riots that have racked the tribal area for a month now.

The same outfit has acknowledged with the same pride its role in the assaults on Christians and their places of worship in parts of Karnataka that, until recently, used to pride themselves on their record of communal peace and even cosmopolitanism. The Bajrang Dal is also the suspect in Kerala.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political front of the parivar, shares power with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa. The BJP rules Karnataka, the first southern state where the party has captured power. It is also the dominant political force in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, which too have witnessed parivar offensives against Christians. In Gujarat, it may be recalled, an anti-Christian campaign in the tribal Dangs region preceded the pogrom. The less serious incidents in Left-ruled Kerala represent only an exception that proves the rule.

Reverting to the debate on the blasts and the riots together, it has proved no more relevant than the one on the nuclear deal. The parliament is not in session right now but, had it been, it might have produced no different a debate, considering the big role in the proceedings for the main opposition BJP. The debate makes a distinction between terrorism and violence that traumatises the minorities and the dominant view is that the former spells a greater and graver threat than the Far Right games.

The debate took a different turn when the Orissa incidents led to the demand for a ban on the Bajrang Dal like the one in force on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), considered a terrorist group though, in the opinion of some, without clinching evidence. The demand raised a debate on whether the SIMI and the Bajrang Dal can be equated.

A major television channel actually conducted a discussion on the question, and some of the arguments heard on the show were at once amusing and depressing. A parivar hack with ludicrous pretensions to liberalism, for example, proclaimed that equating the two outfits was like comparing “an AK 47 to a water pistol”. No one, however, asked him to compare the toll of human lives taken by terrorism and communal violence either in the present instances or down the post-independence decades.

A former intelligence official, believe it or not, argued against equating the two on the ground that the SIMI acted for “political objectives”, while the Bajrang Dal did not. The SIMI may not have spelt out its specific political objective, but the Bajrang Dal as part of the parivar has never made any secret of its.

The no-political-objective certificate comes as a surprise all the more for the context. The riots in Orissa and Karnataka have come during the run up to crucial state assembly polls and the close enough parliamentary election. it is an open secret that the BJP has been on the quest for more communal issues in order to keep its core constituency while building new bases in Karnataka and elsewhere.

An even more outrageous argument against equating the two is that, while terrorism is “anti-India”, communal violence is aimed at defending “cultural nationalism”.

A more depressing debate, however, followed parleys held between the Catholic leadership and the parivar. Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad found it hard to digest this “dialogue”. Disapproving of minority leadership’s attempt to make peace with the peddlers of violence and vandalism, she said: “There can be no peace without justice. Throughout the history, sections from the victim community have been co-opted by the oppressor.”

Setalvad has since then received a series of rebukes from recent victims of parivar terrorism. The unkindest of cuts, perhaps, is the one that says: “If people start talking to each other, persons like her will be out an entire career”. That sounds remarkably like Narendra Modi, whom she has fought bravely and who once said he could not convince her against pursuing her “livelihood”.

Another comment wonders why someone who wants India to “embrace” Pakistan should object to the minority-parivar dialogue. The absurdity of the observation does not need to be argued at length.

Attempts by persecuted minorities to make peace with their oppressors are understandable. But the experience in India, as elsewhere, encourages no hopes at all in this regard. An influential section of the Christian community, for example, had sought a sort of truce with the Far Right after its foul murder of Graham Staines and his two young sons in the same Orissa. The results of the appeasement efforts are there for us all to see now.

But the best answer to Setalvad’s critics is that communal fascism is not a matter of concern to the minorities alone. The Far Right, which pits the poor against the poor and the tribesman against the tribesman in its quest for power, is a foe of the Indian people as a whole.

The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint