My last column earned me much opprobrium with many people, including an old and dear friend, writing in that I was seeking to justify the Hindus' killing of Muslims for whatever happened in Godhra. I seek to reiterate: I am not justifying any violence, and if my column gave that impression, perhaps I was not clear enough in my writing.
The purpose was not to justify a crime that, to be honest, simply cannot be justified but to insist that it is necessary to understand a society and its people, their anxieties and fears, to find solutions.
Politicians, being what they are, will only exploit such existing sentiments. Did not the Congress, back in 1984, exploit Hindu anxieties over Sikh terrorism to let lose genocide upon the innocent Sikhs of north India? So the question that needs to be asked is: was there nothing that we could do to ensure such anxieties were soothed before the bloodletting?
As a journalist, it is my belief that in Gujarat, many in my profession were carried away by their own self-importance than the message itself; and that in giving out strong denunciations day in and day out, they probably aided the mobilisation of the Hindus into the BJP camp. My assessment may be wrong (in fact, I hope it is) but this was the impression I gained. And, of course, there are many, many other factors that play a role in mobilisation that can never be discounted, but I am just writing on something that struck me.
Even Shankarsinh Vaghela, the state Congress chief, had said in disgust, 'Every time the media went overboard in criticising Modi for his acts of commission or omission, they made a hero out of him and helped him in his electoral campaign.' Vaghela knew what was happening; how many in the media can say they did? Or were they more concerned about 'appearing' right, consequences be damned?
Now this does not mean that Modi should not be criticised, but obviously the way it was done only benefited him when the need of the hour was not to demonise Modi or make him appear a martyr, but to get the citizens to stop killing their fellow human beings even as the State fiddled away.
A society's self perception and its current anxieties are important parameters that must be understood. It is these fears that the Sangh Parivar parties play upon, and which has enabled it to grow from strength to strength over the years. Thus, in Gujarat, the Sangh Parivar played on the common Gujarati Hindus' deep-rooted anxieties, and caused a bloodbath. In the tribal belt, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad played on the Adivasis' troubled relationship with the trading class, and used them to target only Muslim traders.
How long can Adivasis be kept satisfied by using them against Muslim traders alone, while Hindu traders continue to exploit them, is a good question and in the long run, doubtful; but in the short run it leads to mayhem against the simple Muslim trader who owns a shop in a small village and is now defenceless.
In the northeast, the Sangh Parivar plays on the average Hindu's fears of infiltration (and these fears do exist) from Bangladesh to push their own agenda. Thus, we have constant stories on how Hindus are becoming a minority, and instead of addressing such concerns, the mistake being made by those who detest the Sangh Parivar and all that it stands for tend to ignore it. When I say addressing, I don't mean building a fence, since anyway, that can never work, but surely this very common phenomenon worldwide (US-Mexico; Europe-Africa) has and can be dealt with in a humane manner that benefits all.
But the secular media and politicians unwillingness to even grapple with the problem lets the Sangh Parivar proclaim that they, and they alone, represent the Hindus' concern, and which then widens the communal divide not just in the northeast but across India (see how Bangladeshi infiltration was a big issue in Maharashtra some years ago?). The fact is that many such issues that divide people exist; refusing to acknowledge them only lets the Sangh Parivar fill up the vacuum.
Rabindranath Tagore put it succinctly. He said there is no point simply blaming the British for dividing us; the fact is that we are divided or let ourselves get divided all too easily, and which the British only exploited to their advantage. Today, the VHP and its sister organisations ride on specific Hindu fears that are different in different parts, to push for their pan-India notion of a Hindu rashtra. They are only exploiting the existing divide that is so prevalent in India, and they are doing it well.
Most of these Hindus are not, by any standard, the average trishul-bearing, Muslim-abusing activists; they end up supporting the Sangh Parivar organisations for a specific purpose; but after gaining strength from this support, the Sangh Parivar has the power to implement its agenda across India and in all its ugliness. The VHP has been going from strength to strength in Gujarat for decades now, playing on key aspects of the Gujarati psyche, of which the Ram temple is one.
The average Gujarati is more a worshipper of Krishna, and many Gujaratis don't even keep a Ramayana at home, since the Ramayana is actually a rather sad story, unlike northern India where Ram is extremely popular. Thus support for a Ram temple among the Gujaratis has been built up over the years by playing up on the existing communal divide, and the riots that occurred almost every year and only polarised the communities further.
In the coming years, tackling the growing grip of a radical version of Hindutva, as espoused by the Hindu Taliban groups, will be the biggest challenge that India and Indians will face. And, at least for the very near future, there seems little to stop the Hindutva juggernaut, which, I believe, still has to peak and from where the downslide will commence.
Given the inherent contradictions (such as traders and Adivasis together) within the oversized Hindutva bloc, like support for the Congress decades ago, is unsustainable and thus will splinter as rival groups seek to further their own causes. But till then the contest for the average Hindu mind is still open, and one needs to understand the different concerns, fears and desires of the citizens of this vast country so that they can be met and the citizen reassured.
To turn a blind eye or simply condemn and be done with is of little help or use. More is needed from all of us, and we can start by understanding the problems that exist and addressing them.