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Probably the most powerful spectacle at the star-spangled Saifai mahotsav was the cynical disdain of the Samajwadi Party and its Government in Uttar Pradesh towards human suffering, specifically in the Muzaffarnagar relief camps where 34 infants and children are officially admitted to have died of cold and disease. But the deeper lesson that the minority community would do well to ponder is that this is the flip side of secularism, which erases the civilisational anchoring that mitigates the arrogance of the powerful and reduces human being to entities – mere numbers in society and utility items in politics.
With democracy functioning as a mathematical game for power rather than a quest for the largest common good, secularism initially showed itself as hostile to Hindu civilisation as the nation’s foundational ethos and denigrated everything Hindu in public life. It enabled the Congress (and later, its copycat parties) to consolidate Muslims into a core votebank, add a few chosen castes on national or regional basis, and form the government. But secularism is barren; it affirms no human or cultural values. As a child of western colonialism, it was only a matter of time before it showed antagonism or indifference to Muslims.
This has now manifested at Muzaffarnagar. Riots broke out more than four months ago, over an eve-teasing incident that should have been resolved at village level itself, and certainly by the district administration later. What has happened thereafter is unprecedented. Muslims who went into relief camps in late August-early September 2013 (locals said the administration incited persons in unaffected villages to fill the camps in order to project Hindus and the Bharatiya Janata Party in bad light), found themselves stuck there as winter arrived. When they said they feared to return to their villages, the administration turned cold to their plight; when the deaths of children began to make news, some camps were forcibly shut down.
In a parallel insult, Hindu victims of the riots were cold-shouldered and compensation offered to Muslims only, a policy axed by the Supreme Court. So far, however, compensation seems to have been given only to Muslims who accepted it and left the relief camps after buying land elsewhere. Hindus remain aggrieved because a powerful State minister got those arrested for the initial aggravating incident released, while it took weeks for some BJP leaders to get bail and several youth remain incarcerated.
The Muzaffarnagar riot toll is a fraction of Gujarat in 2002, but most Muslims there just wanted to get on with their lives once tensions subsided. Even Qubtuddin Ansari, who was made the ‘face’ of the riots by professional activists and had migrated to Kolkata for a fresh start, came back to Ahmedabad after some years. The police case in the matter of funds collected for the Gulberg Society proves that none of the ‘well meaning’ NGOs who descended on the Gujarat tarmac helped to rehabilitate any victim or family outside the State.
They merely took the riot cases to Maharashtra where they felt in command. The rehabilitation of the riot victims was the responsibility of the State Government; to this date there is no report of persons refusing to return to the old neighbourhoods. The difference is the secularism or communalism of the respective leaders of the two States. If we equate ‘communalism’ with respect for the religion and culture of the individual and group, this could explain why some Muslim leaders have begun to frown upon attempts to build a fear psychosis around the persona of Narendra Modi. ‘Secularism’ may be translated as sweet nothings, empty rhetoric, which is what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi offered Muslims in the relief camps they visited; Hindus did not get even that. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi also ignored Hindu victims when he visited a camp in Shamli district at the height of winter (December 22, 2013). But he neither took relief materials like blankets with him nor sent anything later, though he told the media that children were dying and conditions in the camps were deplorable.
This brings us to Narendra Modi and the fact that despite a decade of organised defamation in the national and international arena, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) found no material evidence of complicity on his part in the riots. Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate BJ Ganatra accepted the SIT closure report on the Gulberg Society violence on December 26, 2013. But Zakia Nasim Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who alleged a conspiracy by the Gujarat Chief Minister and others in the riots, promptly announced her decision to appeal against the verdict. Meanwhile, her son has been named by the police in a case of embezzlement of funds collected for a Gulberg Society museum by Teesta Setalvad (the fallout of a dispute between Setalvad and Society residents).
Whatever the provocation behind a riot (burning of train coaches; eve teasing), the human suffering is real. But Zakia Jafri has allowed some professional activists to instigate her to pursue the Chief Minister as part of a political agenda. But the case against Narendra Modi, his colleagues and officers, always rested on presumption, prejudice and outright allegations which could not stand scrutiny when examined by former CBI director RK Raghavan and his team at the direction of the Supreme Court in 2009. It has not helped Ms Jafri’s credibility that she always missed the deadline for filing appeals and needed special judicial leeway to take her witch-hunt forward.
Ahmedabad’s Gulberg society was surrounded by a mob on February 28, 2002. It is widely admitted that Ehsan Jafri fired on the crowd with his pistol before it ran amuck; 69 persons died. Yet it was only in June 2006 that Ms Jafri urged the Director General of Police to register a case against the Chief Minister and others for conspiracy in the riots, which quest led her to approach the Gujarat High Court in May 2007 and then the Supreme Court. However, the SIT report demolished the testimony of RB Shreekumar (ADGP), Sanjiv Bhatt (deputy commissioner-intelligence), and Rahul Sharma (DIG), on whom Ms Jafri had relied to contend that the Chief Minister called a meeting at his residence on the night of February 27, 2002, and instructed officials to allow Hindus to vent anger for what happened at Godhra.
Indian Muslims should see Muzaffarnagar as the midnight hour: the well of victimhood has run dry. It is time to turn towards the dawn.
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