19 March, 2010

When Democracy Mocks

Justice Delivered! People's court punishes the guilty. Dharma and secularism win as BJP suffers humiliating defeat in Gujarat elections. The killings of the innocent avenged. Hindus show solidarity with Muslim victims.

On 15th December, 2002 Ayub Mansuri was amongst the many who were hoping against hope to hear such a verdict from the people's court. That the reverse happened with BJP winning a landslide victory unnerved him raising some fundamental questions. Serious questions not just for the thousands of Mansuris but for every thinking Indian.

Ayub is a weaver, or rather was. He lost a hand to the sword of a face covered with saffron. Before that he had clothed many an Indian. With his rudimentary knowledge and business sense he wonders if Muslims are Indians alright. Do they enjoy the same privileges at law as any other Indian does. If so, how come the 2000 plus Muslims killed or burned to death [and often both] did not merit even a mention in the entire election campaign that revolved around the 58 Hindus brutally massacred in Sabarmati Express.

The irony that Ayub finds difficult to comprehend is that the verdict of over 50% Gujarati voters virtually rewards the accused. Most of those guilty of heinous crimes, including the accused of the infamous Naroda Patia carnage, won handsomely. The BJP swept Central Gujarat where maximum killings took place. Its victory margins receded away from the epicentre of violence. Frightened at the implication, Ayub asks, if it was a popular endorsement of the carnage?

Most political pundits were carried away by the fact that BJP was losing most elections during preceding three years in Gujarat including Municipalities and Panchayats. Modi's predecessor, Keshubhai Patel was replaced after four year's of non-performance. Within weeks Godhra and post Godhra violence ensued. So BJP was unable to showcase anything by its own admission. Except, of course, the Muslim killings conveyed triumphantly through Gaurav Yatras with a masterly crafted strategy based on allusion and innuendo. Gaurav of teaching "them" a lesson, most knew.

As I brood over Ayub's dilemma, Shankarbhai and Vinodbhai of the Vinoba Bhave Ashram walk in my office. In Mehsana district, in villages around Idar Taluka, Muslims who lost all they had, are still not allowed to return, they complain. They have resided and worked there for decades and must return to their home, insist these two Gujaratis. Clearly they have not understood the election verdict. They also show me a list of some 24 names, of people who have lost their homes, shops, everything but received no compensation at all. Their fault? Like hundreds others, they had not checked into relief camps and, therefore, did not form part of victims' statistics.

Ayub seems to have reconciled to the fact that the guilty will never be punished since some of them now sit in the Assembly. He seems to have learned his lessons that Hindutva wanted to teach. But Shanker and Vinod clearly have not. We must pursue them till the end, they say. I remind them that Ashok Bhat the Gujarat Minister of Law, co-accused in a communal murder, with the central Minister of State for Defense, Haren Pathak, will now appoint his prosecutor. A God fearing man, Shankar firmly believes: Bhagwan ke yahan der hai, andher nahin [God might delay, but will not deny justice]. As this trio reminisced, our staff had no doubt who the most hated Chief Minister of India is. Ironic contradictions of democracy, one might feel.

Sometime ago Jug Suraiya painted in this column an alarming scenario involving Crowd India and Mob India. If Shankar, Vinod and Ayub had read it they might spell democracy as democ(k)racy. Or perhaps demo(b)cracy.

But is Ayub's plight entirely due to the saffron excesses? Hasn't the Indian Muslim leadership contributed to his dispensability significantly? In 52 long years they gave him not one university, not one national newspaper; neither a scheduled commercial bank nor a TV channel. They did not bother to explain to the Hindu majority the true Islam, the true character of the Somnath plunderer or to dispel the myths that Muslims marry more and breed much. They could not even explain Kashmiri atrocities as more political than communal violence, that in Kashmir far more Muslims died than Hindus. Not even one percent Hindus were asked to ponder why every other Act of our legislature excludes J&K from its purview, why it has its own flag and constitution or why its CM was until recently called the Prime Minister.

Sadly the Muslim political leadership generally engaged with obscurantism and tokenism: Shah Bano, Haj subsidy, Republic Day boycott.. Even as the Muslim share in employment, industry, banking, defence and security services kept declining to abysmal depths, the community got branded with "appeasement". The clergy on its part woefully failed to clarify controversial concepts like Kafir and Jihad in the Indian context. They were busy meddling with matters temporal. Despite losing Babri Masjid - and hundreds of other mosques and thousands of innocent lives - they will not account for their bankruptcy of vision and mismanagement. And crores of Ayub Mansuris continue to be crushed between militant Hindutva and irresponsible leadership.

Vinod and Shankar could return none of Ayub's dead relatives, burnt property or lost livelihood. But they give him something more important. A hope. Faith that truth will triumph one day and justice will be done. Somehow Ayub knows that as long as there are Hindus like them he has a future in India. Citing the essence of dharma, the duo assures him further that the Gujarat experiment cannot be repeated elsewhere in India. As Ayub rises to leave he hopes that his community will not be held hostage to the misdeeds of some mad Muslims ever again. Vinod angrily interrupts him, "are you sure who did Godhra?".

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