Shailendra Pandey, Nove 14, 2007
" True, a lot of Muslims were killed; but the real murder happening here is that of Hinduism, of the liberal face of Hinduism. Ordinary Hindus do like the glorification of Hinduism and Hindus, but when it embraces such visceral violence, it disturbs them."
“Don’t think you will be spared because you take shelter in Gandhi’s ashram. We will detonate bombs here and unleash terror as long as these Muslims are with you.”
Swami Agnivesh tells S. ANAND about Gujarat during the riots, and about Hindutva’s assault on Hinduism. Swami Agnivesh, who has been called ‘a Marxist in ochre robes’, is the president of the World Council of Arya Samaj. He pioneered the liberation of bonded labourers through the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, an organisation he established.
You worked in Gujarat after the 2002 pogrom. There seems to be a lack of outrage over a genocide of such magnitude.
To an extent, I witnessed this genocide. I visited Gujarat between April 1 and 5, 2002 as part of a group. Rear Admiral Ramdas, Nirmala Deshpande, Valson Thampu, Father Dominic Immanuel, the Maulanas of Jamait-e-Islami and Jamait-e- Ulema-e-Hind, and others were part of the group. We were on a healing mission. On the second day, we were to stay for the night at a place called Eshwar Bhavan in the Ahmedabad’s Navrangpura area. There, we were accosted by a group of well-dressed Hindu fundamentalists. They told us, point blank, that we were most welcome to stay in the Bhavan but our Muslim colleagues must go stay in a masjid. We said, “We are all together, we are here just to ask everyone to stop this madness.” They simply insisted that Muslims must be separated from the rest. When we said this was not acceptable, they warned us that if the Muslims stayed they would blast bombs at the site.
Which Hindutva outfit did they represent?
They seemed to be from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. After they left — it was about 9 in the evening — we decided to go to Gandhi’s Sabarmati Asharm on the outskirts of the city. On reaching there, we realised the goons had followed us in their cars. They reiterated their demand. They said, “Don’t think you will be spared because you take shelter in Gandhi’s ashram. We will detonate bombs here and unleash terror as long as these Muslims are with you.” Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was to arrive the next day, and so we reasoned with them that such violence would be send an inappropriate message. Their reply was, “This has nothing to do with Vajpayee or Modi. This is dharma yudh and we do not want Muslims around.” Ramdas and Nirmala then contacted the Army in Gandhinagar and they gave us protection.
The state machinery was paralysed. TEHELKA offered proof of this.
What I saw on TV and read in TEHELKA gave me goose bumps. A man is boasting how he slit a pregnant woman’s womb; men are talking about hoisting a dead pig atop a mosque. And these men are roaming free. This genocide, and the state’s total complicity… we had sensed all this. But still there was reason to give [them] the benefit of doubt. But after the TEHELKA report, I am beginning to feel that Godhra itself was staged.
TEHELKA’s dissection of Godhra and the fire in Sabarmati Express, does raise some disturbing questions.
About the same time, along with Inder Gujral, Harsh Mander and others, I met Vajpayee at Panchvati. I requested Vajpayee for a white paper on Godhra. I said, find out exactly who was responsible for Godhra. The PM just laughed and said the inquiry was on. Early in April, when the rioting was at its peak, Vajpayee had expressed regret over the carnage, and had famously wondered how he would face the world. He had admonished Modi in this speech and reminded him of his raj dharma (duty as the chief minister). Our esteem for Vajpayee went up. We thought he was one truthful person. We thought he would remove Modi from the chief ministership. Nothing happened. Later, in Goa, Vajpayee took a U-turn, and began to praise Modi. After that statement he was totally exposed.
But Vajpayee has always maintained he was a Sanghi.
After the 2002 election and Modi’s victory, Vajpayee was once asked by a reporter if they would repeat the Gujarat experiment in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan which were going to the polls. Vajpayee’s reply was dangerous and irresponsible. As PM, he asked, “Will Godhra be repeated?” No prime minister has made such a dirty statement. Without waiting for what the inquiry said, he had made up his mind on who was behind Godhra and justified the genocide. That’s when we realised this entire party is debased. On our return to Delhi, Nirmala Deshpande, Nafisa Ali and I filed a case in the High Court seeking BJP’s de-recognition as a political party under the Representation of the People (PR) Act. Our contention was that the RSS, VHP, Ba-.jrang Dal and BJP are all one. These different names and different leaders are just for show; their identity is one. If all of them are violent, communal and have participated in genocide, the BJP as the political wing of the Sangh Parivar should necessarily be de-recognised under the RP Act. The judgment on the case is not yet out.
But what is the alternative to the BJP? The Congress behaves like its B-team. Take their role in the 1984 pogrom.
What is the alternative in Gujarat? We only have the Congress occupying the opposition space. When Sonia Gandhi visited Ahmedabad, we were hoping that she would visit Ehsan Jafri’s home and offer solace to his widow. But no, the Congress was afraid of the “Hindu reaction”. So Sonia did not visit her own party MP’s house. Modi’s victory in 2002 was dangerous. More dangerous was Congress’ admission that he had won. This is wrong. Hitler too had used democracy and elections to promote Nazism. How is Modi different? He used a similar model and made Gujarat a laboratory. Is this democracy or fascism? How can we even recognise him as a democratically elected chief minister? This is democracy’s biggest weakness. Modi manipulated these votes through mobs and frenzy. Which is why I think we should de-recognise this party. There’s no scope for such parties to exist under the PR Act.
What about the reaction of most Hindus, the civil society and the media? They seem to offer tacit support by their silence.
There are many who feel strongly about this, but their revulsion is not being channelled properly. Elections have been announced, and people expect the Congress to react. While Laloo Yadav speaks strongly, Jayanthi Natarajan soft pedals the issue. Why? In this depressing scenario, there’s one ray of hope. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar called me and said he was shocked by what he saw on TV.
The general impression is that Ravi Shankar is pro-Hindutva?
That’s true. During the 2004 general election, it was said that Ravi Shankar had sent bulk SMSes canvassing votes for Atal and Advani. The entire Congress lobby believes Ravi Shankar is a representative of Hindutva. It is therefore especially significant that he called me after seeing the TEHELKA exposé. Which is when I suggested that he draft a statement. Valson Thampu and I co-signed it.
Most of the responses have talked about the timing of the exposé and its impact on elections.
This is the height of perversion. Truth in itself is most important. One cannot think of the consequences and then tell the truth. If the truth has to be uttered at a chosen time, it cannot be the truth.
What we call Hinduism encompasses such a variety of philosophies and traditions, that we do not know what we are dealing with. And the violence in Gujarat happens in the name of Hinduism.
Hinduism is amorphous. You are a Hindu and yet need not be one. This is both Hinduism’s strength and weakness. Hence it is difficult to be a fundamentalist in Hinduism. The most violent face of Hinduism is the caste system, where you view a fellow human with hatred that even an enemy does not deserve.
But Hindutva is pitting Adivasis (like the Chharas) and Dalits against Muslims.
This is dangerous. The four Vedas, the 11 Upanishads and the 18 Puranas never mention Hindu or Hinduism. Neither the Ramayana and Mahabharata nor the Gita use these categories. In fact, Islam’s position on god comes close to the Vedic-Upanishadic position that doesn’t assign a bodily form to god.
All this doesn’t take away from what is happening on the ground.
Yes, a majority of the “liberals” in the country identify themselves as Hindu today. True, a lot of Muslims were killed; but the real murder happening here is that of Hinduism, of the liberal face of Hinduism. Ordinary Hindus do like the glorification of Hinduism and Hindus, but when it embraces such visceral violence, it disturbs them.
Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 44, Dated Nov 17, 2007