To Cover Up
By Ruchir Joshi
04 December, 2003
days ago I was in Gujarat making a radio documentary for the BBC. On
the last day of my visit, I found myself interviewing Anandi Patel,
the state minister for education, and someone reputed to be very close
to Narendra Modi. During the interview, the minister said something
that almost knocked me off my chair. As she began listing her achievements,
the minister mentioned a recent function held by the Gujarat government
in Porbandar: "Why Porbandar?" Smt Patel rhetorically asked,
the righteous light shining
in her eyes, "Because people are beginning to forget Gandhi. They
are beginning to forget Gandhi!"
The reason I was
shocked was simple. I was meeting Anandi Patel after having spent a
week talking to victims of the 2002 killings, talking to activists from
differing backgrounds, talking to friends trying to lead a normal existence
in a mind-numbingly abnormal society. Forget the newspaper and TV reports,
leave aside the findings of various commissions, what I had come face
to face with for the first time was a complete, naked, planned and sustained
anti-Gandhi-ism, and this not only from the government - which of course
leads the project of decimation - but also from ordinary middle-class
Gujarati Hindus. "Gandhi", "Bapu", "ahimsa"
and "satyagraha", were all now bad words that you avoided
uttering in many circles of polite Ahmedabad society.
Given that Anandi
Patel was a be-medalled general of the army carrying out this massacre
of Gandhi's legacy, the very least I expected was a polite dismissal
of old MKG, something to the tune of "yes, yes, those ideas are
unpractical in the face of Muslim terrorism", or "yes, he
was a great man of his time but that time has long passed". What
I did not expect was the sheer
effrontery of a statement akin to: yes, we will butcher people, and
then terrorize them with POTA, but we also reserve the right to put
the old man on our flag and wave it around.
Naïve of me,
of course. It's not as though I haven't noticed the Congress, even at
its violent worst, clinging on to the round spectacles, the stick and
the charkha, nor, to the best of my knowledge, has a single October
2 passed without the chief minister of this cadre-deploying Left Front
putting a flowery noose around Gandhi's statue, and nor have the many
feudal satraps and
small-time crooks leading segments of other parties left the old man
alone. The difference this time, I imagined, was that finally an Indian
political party had decided it could do without the fig-leaf of Gandhi's
dhoti. And I couldn't
have been more wrong.
The problem, of
course, is that the brand is too strong, too ingrained in people's minds,
both nationally and internationally, to be jettisoned so easily. The
world over the equation is Gandhi=non-violence and peace, but also Gandhi=Gujarat,
therefore Gujarat=non-violence and peace. Now, when you are looking
to sweep both the massive mismanagement of the post-earthquake situation
as well as the huge, evil, execution of the post-Godhra massacres under
the carpet, when you are looking to save your political neck by trying
to induce large foreign investments into a troubled state economy, then
you need to put out some reassuring icons. Nothing is better for this
purpose than big newspaper ads sporting the familiar silhouette of MKG
next to a selective list of "Gandhian ideals", such as Vegetarianism
and the support for Handicrafts, under the slogan: Gandhiji na pagey
pagey ("In the footsteps of Gandhiji"). What gives it away,
though, is the little, oval, portrait of a smiling Narendra "Aapdo
Adolf" Modi in the top right corner of the spread.
Talking about Adolf,
once you notice this inside-out conjurer's trick, then you see it everywhere.
Two days ago, it was Ashok Singhal's advocate brother on TV accusing
Mulayam Singh of "Hitlerian" tactics, never mind that the
RSS-VHP have always loved and revered their Fuehrer. Before that it
was Vajpayee being "Gandhian" in saying that we should all
trust the VHP to maintain the peace in Ayodhya (Pray why, Atal-ji? Why
should we trust these thugs, who've always run their chariot on wheels
of violence and hatred, to maintain the peace?) and then, to top it
all off, you have George Bush bringing out of
his mouth the same foreign word - peace - while speaking about Iraq.
With Bush we know
that if he was woken up from sleep and asked to spell "peace"
he would come up with a four-letter construction ending with a
double "s". But in the case of Anandi Patel I had no reason
to suspect that her Gujarati wasn't equal to spelling "sahishnuta"
or "sadbhavna" or any other useful Gandhian word that could
be used as a smoke-screen. Another word I am sure she can spell is "balatkar"
- rape - and she took great exception to my using it while asking her
about what had happened to Muslim women in Gujarat.
"I would thank
you not to use that word in my presence!" she snapped at me."But,
Anandibehn, how can I not use it?" I asked, stunned yet again
at the sheer gall. "Because there have been no rapes!"
"How can you
say that?' I managed to get out.
said the lady, bringing her full authority to bear, "I am the minister
for thewelfare of women and children!"
Not being an Oriana
Fallaci or a Jeremy Paxman, I was, at this point, more or less robbed
of speech. The minister, however, continued: No rapes, none; And if
some girl had indeed registered a case of rape then where was the
proof? Had any doctor said she was raped? And it was nonsense that the
police had not investigated properly; a canard spread by a massive conspiracy
of the English media in the country; every single English-language newspaper
and TV channel in cahoots to defame her honest government and her brave
leader Narendra bhai.
I tried to point
out to Smt Patel that never before, not even just after the Emergency,
had the Indian English-language media been so completely of one voice
about any issue. I tried to put to her that even pro-BJP journalists
Delhi were appalled by what had been carried out in Gujarat. I tried
to suggest that if there had been even a sliver of doubt about the veracity
of the testimonies of planned murders, rapes and precision-arson, someone,
somewhere, in the national media would have gone to town about it, if
only to be different, if only to increase circulation or viewership.
But Smt Patel was
having none of it: I am telling you it's all a string of lies!
At the end of the
interview I was left wondering whether it was sheer arrogance or complete
head-in-the-sand panic that had been on display. Whatever the case,
it was only later I realized that Anandi Patel's model was not so much
Joseph Goebbels as a more recent avatar. Remembering my encounter in
Gandhinagar, I suddenly saw Donald Rumsfeld sitting there in a Gujarati-style
sari, firing questions that he wanted to answer: did we protect the
Muslims? Heck, you bet! Did Muslims start the violence in each and every
Gujarat since Independence? Too darn true, they did! Are the pending
accusations against our MLAs and RSS-VHP members serious? Of course
not, they're irrelevant, what's important is that we have arrested and
jailed the perpetrators of the Godhra outrage! And so on and so forth.
In this torrential question-plus-answer format, one of the things Anandi
Patel threw at me with great vehemence was: why didn't the English media
say anything about the innocent dead in carriage S6? Because they were
Hindus, of course!
The difference between
Gandhi and many social activists working today is that, when faced with
Himalayan odds, MKG could fall back upon his faith. Even as I returned
to Delhi, still reeling from the interview, the news broke that relatives
of the Godhra victims - those very Hindus that Smt Patel was so concerned
about - now wanted the investigations carried out from outside Gujarat.
I am not much given to prayer, and my own faith is something that fluctuates
a fair bit, but reading this bit of news I couldn't help imagining that
some unexplainable power was beginning to get back to Anandibehn and
her Fuehrer-bhai and that maybe they would be forced to remember Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi in a way they hadn't planned.