In Delhi, these days, an
exhibition is being shown. Gandhi, King, Ikeda: A Legacy of Building
Peace, it is called. In a small room of the Gandhi Smriti, in Tees January
Marg. A few photographs and write-ups. Whenever I visit Gandhi Smriti,
I usually see there only some foreigners and a few old people from Tamil
Nadu obviously on a sight seeing tour to the capital. (I don't know
how this combination has come, but that is how it is!) As for this exhibition,
they too were absent.
When I think of Martin Luther
King Jr, the first thing coming to my mind is the memorable speech he
made on 28 August 1963, five years before he was killed, on the occasion
of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I have
a dream today
the wavy dreamy words go on. Gandhi too had his
dreams. And five months before he was killed, on the occasion of Indian
Independence, he was trudging the graveyard of those dreams. He had
stopped making speeches and proclamations. Only fasts and prayers. Yet,
his spiritual energy was not spent up.
On 26 August 1947, Governor
General Lord Mountbatten wrote a letter to
Gandhi which had these lines: "In the Punjab we have 55000 soldiers
and large scale rioting in our hands. In Bengal our forces consist of
one man, and there is no rioting
We don't know the strength
of soldiers in Gujarat today. Whatever it is,
neutralizing the state soldiery everywhere, several new senas, dals
and lashkars have sprung up, and with bombs, guns and trisuls in hand,
adorning a variety of uniforms, they are conducting flag marches in
the land from Kashmir to Kerala and Gujarat to Assam.
That is of arms. Now, about
the men. Everyone knows the advice Gandhi gave to the angry Hindu who
stormed into the room where he was observing fast in Calcutta, with
the story of his daughter killed by Muslims. No need to repeat it.
Reminding that advice in
a strange way, a few sentences were spoken by Prime Minister Vajpayee
last week, while on a visit to Gujarat. He said, he was due to embark
upon a foreign tour soon and that included Muslim countries too. "What
face I will show them?" he asked the audience in an emotion-choked
voice. The strangeness was that the audience was not BJP workers or
the parishad of Hindus, his conscience keepers, these days. They were
the stumps and remnants of the Muslim families subjected to the carnage,
now put together in a camp. Standing by the side of the Prime Minister,
was Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister, and he nodded in agreement. "Our
police have mowed down people," he had snapped at
reporters during the first two days of the carnage when told about police
The reporters of a national
newspaper have now scanned through the
FIRs and post mortem reports and found out that the forty killed in
the police firing on day one were all Muslims. Men like that, and arms
During the discussion on
POTO Bill, in parliament, the leader of opposition,
Sonia Gandhi commented that the Prime Minister's "moment of reckoning
has come." He had to make up his mind, she said: whether he wanted
to "protect the welfare of the people of India" or "succumb
to the internal pressures of his party and its sister organizations."
An angry Vajpayee retorted that he was not Prime Minister courtesy the
Congress, and that "people want me and I will remain PM till they
want me." He warned her not to interfere with the affairs of his
parivar. "There is a limit to enduring, " he said sternly.
(Does anyone remember the momentous speech of Adolf Hitler in the crucial
days of 1938? "My patience is now at an end
In this hour the
whole German people will unite with me! It will feel my will to be its
") What followed was truly ominous.
To illustrate his ability
to resist pressure (atal, he is), the example he selected was nothing
but the 1998 Pokhran nuclear test. How he "defied the world opinion"
and how another Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao could not. (How he
defied another of our Prime Ministers, he did not say. The assurance
given by Prime Minister Nehru to the nation, in 1957 on the occasion
of the inauguration of Apsara Reactor at Trombay: "I am happy today,
but with the happiness it is impossible not to think of the likelihood
of this development taking a malevolent turn. No man can prophesy the
future. But I should like to say on behalf of my government - and I
think I can say with some assurance, on behalf of any future Government
of India - that whatever might happen, whatever the circumstances, we
shall never use this atomic energy for evil purposes. There is no condition
attached to this assurance, because once a condition is attached, the
value of such an assurance does not go very far.") In other words,
when the dreadful, inhuman and selfish decisions come, things like world
human considerations and even the simple voice of common sense may not
mean anything to this man, a poet. Why, these days, every word spoken
by him, (behari as well as atal that he is), is so much loaded with
meanings and uncomfortably ominous?
On 4 April, when he went
to Gujarat to express his human concerns
before the Muslim refugee families, the images he employed to describe
the horror of the carnage were more horrible than the carnage itself.
Hindu rites require a person to put on the pyre only after his death,
not alive, he said! How faulted is the mindset that seeks religious
rites and that too such ones, rather than the statuettes of civilization
and natural justice to judge the rights and wrongs in such cases!
I remember the days when
a debate was on in Kerala on the case of Chekanur Moulavi, a Muslim
cleric who was done away with by the Islamic fundamentalists for preaching
reform and brotherhood between religions. Sharia did not sanction the
killing of a murtadd, an apostate, was then the common position stated
by Muslim intellectuals, even the liberal ones.
Shocked, I had to ask, what if they did, for the argument's sake? (And
in fact many Muslim scholars held that view.) Were not these things
to be decided on the basis of the criminal law of the land? Unfortunately
reluctance to proceed further suddenly put a stop to the debate. Will
such reluctance and stoppage be the fate of the new argument set on
by the Prime Minister too? Or, will the debate take a turn that burning
is okay after killing, and killing is okay after
for the Hindus, their rites and customs, discarded as rubbish by sensible
ones but being propped up again by the fundamentalists of the day, do
provide for burning people alive too!
As I leaf through the famous
speech of Martin Luther King Jr, a master in making the spoken word
the servant of his cause, this stanza appears at one place: "We
have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects
of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and
the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note
to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that
all men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty
and pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted
on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.
Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has
given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked
'insufficient funds'. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice
The Bank of Justice has not
failed. It is open and functioning. But the cheques issued are fraudulent.
Not from the accounts of rights of man, but from those of the rites
of religions they are being issued. Don't ever think that the signatories
do not know that these accounts have been long closed. But the signatories
themselves have been usurped and bigots are occupying the chairs.
(Anand is a writer and thinker)