When a news agency like Tehelka uses “Free.Fair” in its description of itself, I cannot but help myself to a wry smile since Fox TV, a barely disguised propaganda machine for the Republican Party in the US, also calls itself “Fair and Balanced”. And we all know what a joke that it is.
Recently, Tehelka, whose political leanings are no secret, did yet another sting operation with the aim being to expose the “hopelessly one-sided perpetration of violence on hapless Muslims” in India in general and Gujarat in particular— noble aims that we know are the holy grail of people who want to portray “genocide of Muslims” as India’s favorite national sport.
Once you move past the self-generated hyperbole of the “most important investigation of our time” and the “one of the finest in the history of Indian journalism” of Tehelka’s editors and actually wade through the text, you have to ask yourself—“What is so path-breakingly new here?Sure there is some new information, some faces behind the names but what is it about this sting operation that is…well so….unprecedented?”
Let’s take a minute or two to try to answer that.
For starters there is the investigation into what happened at Godhra—that being the flashpoint that started the conflagration. In 2002, just after the Gujarat riots Shabnam Hashmi of Sahmat came to my university in Long Island, New York to educate Americans on the plight of Muslims in India with the focus being on the recent Gujarat riots. One of the claims she made, with the help of something she called evidence, was that it was the Sangh Parivaar which started the Godhra fire themselves: a fact that she brought home to the audience by repeating “Reichstag fire” a couple of hundred times to make the “obvious” association (other ways she made associations was using a succession of images—one of Hitler and then one of Advani, one of Nazi stormtroopers and then one of RSS men parading in shorts and lathis). I was hoping when I read the headline “Godhra–the Diabolic Lie” in Tehelka that I would ultimately be told, with proof, that 9/11 was a controlled explosion.
Sorry wrong conspiracy.
Anyhow, even here the good people at Tehelka come up with a proof of a much weaker proposition than Ms. Hashmi’s: that watered-down version of events being that that the Godhra riots were caused by a disorganized band of Muslim hawkers and not caused by the Muslim political leadership as the Gujarat government claim (Mob fury, not terror). As an aside, it is interesting how the people at Tehelka label communal violence by Muslims (read the para below where an army man is asked for his religion and then attacked to convince yourself that this is not an out-of-control mob beating the shit out of everyone in sight but selectively attacking members of a certain religion) as “mob fury” and that done by Hindus as “terror”.
The boys were shouting, “Maaro… maaro.” I told the boys I was an army man. They asked for proof. I pulled out my warrant from my pocket. One boy, after seeing my warrant,told the others I was an army man and nobody should beat me. The other boys then asked for my name. The said boy read out my name, upon which the other boys said I was a Hindu and one of them hit me with an iron rod on my head. My head started bleeding and I felt dizzy.
But let’s move on.
The supporting train of logic, though compelling, still requires the acceptance of certain axioms: 1) people make statements implicating their own people under torture and under fear but then when they withdraw their testimony in the same communal atmosphere, the fear of retaliation that prompted them to make those supposedly coerced statements has vanished mysteriously, 2) Kar Sevaks give coached, identical statements that contradict each other and 3) that there are some petrol-pump employees, who even 5 years after the riots, still live under “constant police vigil“.
Now, we come to the second claim: that being that they have unmasked the Gujarat butchers and the master butcher— Narendra Modi. In support of this claim is video evidence—footage of certain riot-masters proudly declaring their roles in the massacre, touching upon the police inaction all around and claiming they had the blessings of Narendra Modi for their supposedly noble deeds. No where do they say that Modi actually planned the riots or roamed the streets saying “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill” like two Congressi gentlemen, never punished, who were seen by many to have done precisely that during the 84 Sikh riots. [If they had said that Modi was indeed doing an HKL Bhagat, then yes that would be a sensational sting.]
If we are to accept the truth of their statements (which we have no reason not to) two things are proven—-1) these bastards deserve a painful death 2) Modi provided moral support to the rioters and expressed happiness at what they had done.
At the cost of repeating myself, did we learn anything new here?
Let me explain.
By and large, there are two kind of people who are reading the Tehelka report.
One class of people are Modi’s supporters. None of them will ever claim that Modi was an innocent man who tried his best to protect Muslims after Godhra. Instead they will say that they love Modi precisely because he did not and by withdrawing state support for Muslims “taught those people a lesson /restored Gujarati pride”. For these people this report does nothing —except that it may remind them of Modi’s Hindutva credentials once again, in case they forgot in the shadow of Om Shanti Om’s impending release.
The other class are people (and I am among those) who oppose him. We have never been in doubt of Modi’s tacit support for rioters, the BJP administration’s protection of murders and rapists (the evidence from multiple agencies in 2002 itself is too pervasive to believe anything else) and we have always considered the fact that Modi was never put on trial for motivated criminal negligence is a blot on the Indian political system.
The thing is that for both these kinds of people, there is very little in the expose that they did not know already. Which is why I am surprised at all the hype and hoopla in the MSM and in the blogosphere about it’s earth-shaking significance. [Remember that this evidence is not admissible in a court of law because of which one cannot even say that these “confessions” will put people behind bars]
When Kapil Dev was unmasked as the mastermind behind the betting operations in a similar sting, yes that was *new* information. When Shakti Kapoor was revealed to be a lecherous casting couchsurfer, was anyone really surprised?
So what then is the significance of the sting operation? First and foremost, it is a political instrument created to polarize opinion in pre-election Gujarat by bringing to the front-burner an issue that no-one can remain neutral about. Secondly it is an expression of the political biases of the news organization concerned which in turn serves as fodder for a larger body of self-flagellators who, looking at foreign shores, play the “minorities-under-attack in India” card. ( As an aside, one of Tehelka’s pet issues is Brahminical dominance of lower castes. However in Gujarat when lower caste Hindus were often the perpetrators of violence, the idealogues at Tehelka were faced with a conundrum of sympathy. They solve the riddle with a “saffron organizations used lower caste Hindus for carrying out anti-Muslim attacks” putting the blame on their hated constituency for “using” the lower castes as if they had no minds of their own.)
If Tarun Tejpal was reading this and if I had any influence, he would be calling a press conference once again saying “Do not shoot the messenger” and running it on the Tehelka ticker and making some more news. The problem, dear Mr.Tejpal, is that the messenger, in this particular case, is so obviously guided by a certain ideology (despite claiming to be neutral) and so desirous of creating sensation and self-serving hot air at certain sensitive times using a hot-button issue that can cost lives if sufficiently stirred up, that it becomes a little difficult to not ascribe motives or not find agendas.
Which brings us to the message.
Not that it needed a sting operation to be relevant, but Narendra Modi and his being a factor in the political landscape of 2007 is a matter of grave concern for right-thinking Indian citizens. That a Chief Minister, who abdicated his responsibility of protecting all citizens and facilitated the creation of an environment of communal violence, is still not behind bars sharing a jail cell with his disciples is a failure of Indian civil society to dispense justice. It infuriates me to hear Modi apologists talk about his sterling powers of administration and his supposedly clean image as a justification for being a mass murderer. Just as it sends smoke through my ears when I encounter campaigns of propaganda that repeat ad-nauseum the canard that minorities are the victims of “one-sided violence” in India , in the process totally denying the regular terrorist violence unleashed on the country by Islamic Jihadists.
However by letting Modi and his associates walk free and not making them answer for their crimes, the silent majority that just wants to get along with their lives have allowed the motivated few to paint all of us with the same Nazi/saffron colors.If we ask moderate Muslims to distance themselves from radical Islamists, then it is contingent on us to clearly denounce, with one voice, the politics of hate that Modi espouses.
But we have not done that.
By not dealing a stinging blow” to the Gujarat butchers, we have ourselves contributed to keeping open a festering wound that, over the years, has been cynically exploited by scumbags from both sides—to create fear, to get votes, to stir up trouble and even to justify further terrorist attacks from Jihadists as an expression of anguish against the miscarriage of justice in Gujarat.
In concluding, what makes any discussion of Gujarat so painful is that there are no “heroes” anywhere— at one end you have a bunch of killers who consider themselves as modern day Rana Prataps and at the other you have a group of publicity-hounding opportunists (who also would like you to believe that they are selfless crusaders) seeking to gain political and often pecuniary advantage (the so-called “shocked and anguished Indians” who were touring the US right after the Gujarat massacres promoting “peace and nonviolence” in front of “focus groups” and “Congressional committees” were certainly doing that) out of a man-made tragedy.