March 8, 2002


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T V R Shenoy

A record that we can do without

Do Indians seriously want to avoid carnage on the lines that we saw in Gujarat last week? If yes, then we need to dig into the roots of the problem. And to do so, here are a couple of works that may help you understand the frustration that exploded into arson and murder in the towns and hamlets of Gujarat.

The first is the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Here is what it says in the article on Ayodhya: "The Babri Mosjid ("Mosque of Babur") was built in the early 16th century by the Mughal emperor Babur on a site traditionally identified as Rama's birthplace and as the location of an ancient Hindu temple, the Ram Janmabhoomi. Because of its significance to both Hindus and Muslims, the site was often a matter of contention."

Read that again. This is not a work by "communal" historians; this is the Encyclopaedia Britannica -- the foremost reference work on Earth, and acknowledged as such for over 200 years. And here it is blandly stating that Babur built his mosque on a site sacred to Hindus. I am surprised leftist academicians haven't banned the Encyclopaedia Britannica from their libraries!

The second reference work I would refer to is 'The Guinness Book Of World Records', a work in which Indians rarely figure. Here is one occasion when they did pop up: "The longest contested lawsuit ever recorded ended in Poona, India, on 28 April, 1966 when Balasaheb Patloji Thorat received a favourable judgment on a suit filed by his ancestor Maloji Thorat 761 years earlier in 1205. The points at issue were rights of presiding over public functions and precedences at religious festivals."

Let us see: it takes India's judges 761 years to settle a dispute that just happens to be a potent cocktail composed of property rights and religion. And this, please remember, was a case where the dispute was between members of the same religion. Can you blame people for being just a little cynical when they hear a judicial solution being touted as the best way out of the Ayodhya dispute?

Now, put these two items together. You have a dispute where the 'secularists' absolutely refuse to discuss the facts, or, worse, just dismiss them out of hand. Their proffered solution is to brush everything under the judicial carpet. It is this attitude from which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad draws its strength.

Let us now come to Godhra. I was riveted to the television set from the moment I heard about the violence in Godhra. But for hours on end, reporters adamantly refused to identify who had attacked pilgrims returning from Ayodhya; all we got was vague mentions of one "community" being responsible for the murders.

This was undiluted idiocy. Did anyone believe that the attackers were Rastafarians? Or Quakers? And when the attackers were finally identified, there was a desperate attempt at justification; the attackers, it was said, had been provoked.

This moves beyond idiocy into the realm of the truly despicable. What was the 'provocation'? Arson? Rape? Murder? Or is the praise of Lord Rama a crime in India?

In any event, there is no longer any serious doubt that the attack in Godhra was not a 'spontaneous' event. Mobs do not gather in the hundred, complete with arms and petrol under ordinary circumstances. (Either that or the law and order situation in Godhra has been allowed to deteriorate for decades if platform vendors stroll around with such paraphernalia!)

So who planned it, and why? I hear the army conjecture there was a foreign element. The fires of Godhra, the army says, were set with malice aforethought, the cold calculation being that Hindus would react, and the army would have to be called in of necessity. And that would mean the two-month-old build-up at the border would be disrupted. As a bonus, there would be a massive amount of bad publicity about India...

Is this theory true? Who knows? (Was it Benazir Bhutto who said, "Pakistanis blame everything but earthquakes and cyclones on RAW, and Indians are equally good at pointing fingers at the ISI!"?) Irrespective of who planned what, the plan succeeded. So what does that say about the distrust between Hindus and Muslims?

In fact, before pointing fingers at any other country or countries, we should try to figure out who is responsible for this state of affairs. It would be simple to lay all the blame at the doors of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, wouldn't it? But it was not they who set the fires in Godhra. No, the ones being charged with setting off the chain of events are the city fathers of Godhra -- Mohammad Kalota, Abdul Dhamtia, Bilal Haji and Salim Shaikh. To use the words beloved of the 'secular' media, the men have been linked to a 'certain political organisation'. (It is an unwritten rule that people may be named only if they belong to the so-called 'Sangh Parivar'!)

What happened in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and the rest of Gujarat is despicable. I sincerely hope the men responsible are caught and hanged. But remember this: the cycle of murder did not start in those cities, but in Godhra. For hours on end, as the media sought to dampen speculation on the assassins in Godhra and politicians came forward reluctantly to utter mealy-mouthed inanities, it seemed to many -- not just in Godhra -- that this would be yet another massacre of Hindus that would be brushed under the carpet.

Frustration does not excuse crimes, not even petty theft, certainly not arson and killing. But be sure of this: unless there is discernible action to settle the Ayodhya dispute -- Mathura and Kashi too -- this will not be the last riot we see in Gujarat.

And is asking an increasingly reluctant judiciary really the only way out? I can only hope that these disputes don't simmer on for another 700 years and beat the record in Pune!

T V R Shenoy

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