Modi and Mahabharata
BY RB SREEKUMAR
Former Additional Director General of Police (Police
The term society envisages collective community living of
human beings. The origin of society preceded the emergence of the state
and its limbs of legislature, executive and judiciary. It was to actualise
the aspirations of society that the state was created.
Society is defined in the Random House
Dictionary of English Language as "a highly structured system of human
organisation for large-scale community living that normally furnishes
protection, continuity, security and a national identity". The state’s
emergence ended the prevalent jungle law, or matsya nyaya, of the
strong dominating the weak. The state endeavours for the creation and
maintenance of secure conditions for community living that enables each
person in society to be at his best self for the benefit of all.
India’s democratic polity, constituted and sustained by
the Constitution, seeks to concretise the vision of Indian citizens – we
the people – as expressed in the Preamble. Jurists unanimously confirm
that the concepts of sovereignty, national integrity, democracy, socialism
and secularism embody the unalterable basic foundations of the
Constitution. Ultimately, individual citizens, as members of Indian
society, are the custodians of these statutorily designed imperatives for
the health and vibrancy of the nation.
A government assuming power on electoral mandate has no
legal, political or moral sanction to violate, subvert or alter the
intrinsic and elementary constitutional principles that encapsulate the
quintessential and long cherished values of Indian people. Society,
being the reservoir of voters, has to be ever vigilant to check and
contain deviations, aberrations and violations from the laid down
framework by organs of the government intoxicated with power obtained
through the ballot box or otherwise.
An alert and agile society performs its role of
watchdog through an array of institutions, formal or amorphous,
traditional or ad hoc, long-standing or temporary. Societal response,
often diverse or even confrontationist to governmental action or events,
expresses itself through identities like media, NGOs, conscious citizens’
forums, bodies of class, region, gender, professionals, caste, etc.
A performing and lively democracy needs the services of
the upright bureaucrat, the social activist, the bold dissenter, the
courageous media person, and so on. Such persons often play the role of
the protester and the whistle-blower with a loftier vision than the
self-contained power hungry politician successfully manipulating
sentiments of short-sighted voters.
The response of segments of Gujarat society to the Godhra
incident and the subsequent universally condemned anti-minority violence
falls into three distinct patterns in tune with their real or contrived
vested interests and spheres of influence.
The protracted Gujarat riots in 2002 are comparable to the
disrobing of Maharani Draupadi at the very altar of justice viz. the royal
courts of the Kauravas, meant for the redressal of subjects’ grievances
and the delivery of justice. Here, the holy maiden of the rule of law, the
dearest daughter of the Constitution of India, has undergone and is still
suffering prolonged molestation since 2002, as hundreds of citizens became
prey to the depredations of armed mobs and subsequently have been
experiencing near total apathy from organs of the criminal justice system.
A faint silver living to the cloud of abnormal societal
callousness is visible in the sterling performance by a handful of
bureaucrats (all of them had to face and continue to face the wrath of the
powers that be), the media (particularly the English press) and a few
courageous social activists and lawyers. Referring to these well meaning
champions of humanism and sanity, Prof Shiv Vishvanathan, in his essay
titled "The Wages of Dissent", (Seminar, Monthly, January 2007)
observed, "Each through his/her performance transformed Modi’s regime into
a mosaic of unsettled and unsettling questions. Each of these encounters
with a Zahira Shaikh, Teesta Setalvad, Cedric Prakash, Mukul Sinha, was
stark, public and commanded huge audiences."
Next, one can find another category of people from the
bureaucracy, police, professionals, etc, who ignored the call of their
conscience and duty and acted like Duryodhana and his cohorts, who though
aware of righteousness did not remain sincere to it. Instead, they pursued
evil despite full knowledge of its consequence – "Gnanami Dharmam na
cha me Pravruthi, Gnanami Adharmam na cha me Nivruthi" ("I was aware
of righteousness but did nothing in pursuit of it; I knew about evil,
still did not abstain from it"). They facilitated the masterly
manipulation of public opinion and generation of apathy by the powers that
be towards riot victims among the bulk of the electorate for achieving
political mobilisation of the majority community and consequential
electoral dividends in the 2002 assembly polls.
A third group of citizens took the posture of Maharathis
like Bhishma, Draunacharya, Kulguru Krupacharya, Vidura, etc. They allowed
the disrobing of Draupadi lest their judicious intervention result in the
loss of their position, chairs and aristocratic privileges. The ongoing
sacrilegious insensitivity and criminal negligence to the just and minimum
needs of the riot affected is the net outcome of such an attitude.
The 2002 riots have many disquieting unparalleled and
A seemingly well-planned strategy and ground level tactics were set in
motion after the gruesome, inhuman Godhra train fire incident, to incite
communal sentiments among those belonging to the majority community with
the obvious intention of political mobilisation and electoral advantage.
This was achieved through rumours and motivated media projections about
the non-existent current atrocities on the majority community, whisper
campaigns through word of mouth and the circulation of handbills and
pamphlets. To illustrate, the story of breasts of Hindu women being cut
and thrown, temple desecration by descendants of Aurangzeb, etc. (No
police or governmental action has been taken against the perpetrators of
these falsehoods so far.)
Non-initiation of statutorily stipulated measures contained in the Riot
Schemes and particularly in the 1997 order of the then director general of
police, KV Joseph. Titled, "Instructions to deal with Communal Riots
(Strategy and Approach)", it was circulated to all superintendents and
commissioners of police. These measures should have been promptly taken
from the afternoon of February 27, 2002 onwards. To illustrate, there was
no arrest of those figuring in police records as persons to be taken into
custody in the event of any communal tension.
Parading of the dead bodies of Godhra fire victims, including those
unidentified and even those belonging to places outside Ahmedabad, through
communally sensitive areas of Ahmedabad city, resulting in the ignition of
high voltage hatred against the minority community.
There were media reports that no effective action was initiated by the
authorities in the early hours of the bandh day, February 28, 2002,
when miscreants started indulging in petty crimes like burning of tyres on
the roads, forcible closure of shops, etc, largely to test the mood and
approach of the police. Hence the slogan: "Yeh andar ki baat hai,
Police hamare saath hai" ("The inside story is, The police are with us
The 2002 Gujarat violence was assailed by national leaders of all
political dispensations, including the then prime minister, Atal Bihari
Delay in the imposition of curfew in certain sensitive areas and slackness
in the enforcement of curfew resulted in crowds committing wanton crimes
against minorities. For example, the Best Bakery in Vadodara was burnt
during curfew hours.
No videography of the riots was recorded by the authorities despite
regulations to this effect. It is ironical that the electronic media could
easily record and telecast the riots while the authorities could not
collect evidence through electronic gadgets.
Prime Minister Vajpayee, in a public speech in Gujarat, directed the state
government to perform its assigned duties – Raj Dharma. Never
before in the history of independent India has the country’s prime
minister been forced to issue such public instructions to any state
The response to complaints by riot victims was deplorably irresponsible
and often even hostile. This stratagem of functionaries of the criminal
justice system manifested itself in the form of:
a. Refusal to register cases by riot victims against
supporters of communal organisations.
b. Minimisation of intensity of offences.
c. Treating different offences as single transactions.
d. Refusal to take the accused on remand for recovery of
e. Not opposing, effectively, the bail applications of the
f. Appointments of even office bearers of communal
organisations as public prosecutors, etc.
It is relevant to note that these major lapses and such
motivated dereliction of legally entrusted duties by the bureaucracy
prompted the Supreme Court of India to pass severe strictures against
state government officials in the Best Bakery case and other related
litigations. Secondly, the apex court ordered the reinvestigation of two
riot related cases and their trial was transferred to Maharashtra.
Thirdly, in a rare move, the Supreme Court ordered the reopening and
reinvestigation of around 2,000 Gujarat riot cases, which the police had
already closed. Fourthly, many petitions of the riot victims, such as the
Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society cases, are still before the courts.
It should be noted that there were no such instances of a
loss of confidence in the state administration system expressed through
litigations after the 1969 and 1984 riots in Gujarat.
Nearly 1,000 localities, from rural and urban areas, were
affected by communal clashes in 2002. Survivors/victims from most of these
places were forced to migrate and stay in relief camps. Nearly all those
migrants lost their movable and immovable properties. Almost 1,20,000
people had to dwell in congested relief camps in subhuman conditions for
over six to eight months – refugees in one’s own motherland.
The bulk of the floating population from other states,
people belonging to the minority community, had left the state during the
riots. There is no reliable data on them. Similarly, no clear information
is forthcoming on the number of missing persons.
On June 6, 2007, The Times of India, quoting a
source from the Supreme Court, reported that even today about 30,000
refugees are forced to live in despicable conditions.
The much published pictures of a "Vibrant Gujarat" and the
reality of thousands of its citizens dwelling in pathetic conditions are
as sickening as they are contradictory. Do these images paint pictures of
stagnancy and destabilisation or that of dynamic advancement?
Citizens of Gujarat must ask themselves why the recreation
of the pre-riot atmosphere, ensuring smooth intercommunity living, is
being blocked in the state. Is it due to a lack of resources or, in fact,
the absence of political will and commitment to cater to the basic needs
of the victims?
What civil society can do
Social groups, educational institutions, religious bodies,
NGOs, conscious citizens and others can easily take up the issues impeding
normalisation of the situation in nearly 1,000 localities affected by
communal violence. A lot needs to be done to ensure the security of
victims and the restoration of their vocations and professions to achieve
durable rehabilitation. Restoration of immovable property to legal owners,
resuscitation of trade and business, adequate provisions for empowerment
of orphans and widows, creation of educational facilities, and so on.
Secondly, the reconstruction of major shrines and
monuments destroyed or damaged during the violence, such as the tomb of
Wali Gujarati, is long pending.
Communalists engage in a relentless indoctrination drive.
Pseudo-religious organisations inculcate exclusivism and sectarianism in
the minds of their followers. The afflicted then spring into violent
action against their "rival community" on any trivial issue. After all,
for a communalist, "their God is our Devil".
Special efforts to stress that humanism and meditative
spiritualism constitute the core values and soul of all religions are the
need of the times. Otherwise, unscrupulous politicians, bent on securing
power at any cost, will continue to adopt competitive communalism as a
means and vehicle to advance their political careers.
At special gatherings, in educational institutions and
religious congregations, programmes need to be started to stress religious
tolerance. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi, the famous study on religions
by Bharat Ratna, Bhagavan Das, titled Essential Unity of All Religions,
lectures by Swami Ranganathananda, etc, can all be used as source
material. This project can be called Sarva Dharma Mool Adarsh Prachar
(Understanding the Tenets of All Religions).
Programmes must be planned for the joint celebration of
different religious festivals through participation by all in processions,
congregations. These could be called Sarva Dharma Utsav (Festival
of All Religions).
At the grass root level, in villages and in urban
localities, visits could be arranged to familiarise people with each
other’s religious shrines in the neighbourhood. For example, school
students of an area could be encouraged to visit and study the
significance – scriptural, spiritual, architectural – of a local shrine.
This can be called Sarva Dharma Pavitra Sthan Darshan (Pilgrimage
of All Religions).
Godless atheistic secularism alone cannot effectively
counter the rising tide of communalism in the country.
Well-planned projects need to be designed and implemented
so as to enhance intercommunity cooperation in all dimensions of human
activity – economic, cultural, religious and social.
An ancient Sanskrit text, Nitisara, classifies all
human beings into two categories: wise men and fools. Wise men are those
who spend their leisure time in the study of science and the appreciation
of arts and literature. Fools, on the other hand, utilise their free hours
for pursuit of addictions, quarrels and sleep.
Kala Gacchati Dheematam
Vyasanana cha Moorkhanam
Nidraya Kalahena cha."
(Poetic compositions and shastras do serve,
As recreations for the wise to pass their time
The foolish ones spend their time in vices diverse
In idle sleep or in quarrels.)
Ramakrishna Paramahans once compared a person engaged in
communal fights to a dog trapped in a hall of mirrors. The dog will bark
to death at his own image reflected in each mirror. The Vedantic principle
of each person being a fragment of the same universal divinity – God – is
the moral of Ramakrishna’s parable, an elucidation of the vasudhaiva
kutumbakam (the entire world is a family) principle.
A short story by Krishan Chander titled A Donkey’s
Autobiography (Ek Gadhe ki Sarguzasht) describes a donkey
telling a group of Hindu and Muslim communalists who asked him to specify
his religion that, born as a donkey, he is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim,
he is just a donkey. Let us learn from this donkey.
(Text of a speech delivered by RB Sreekumar at a recent
meeting of Nishan-e-Samvidhan, an Ahmedabad based citizens’ group.)