Monday, November 4, 2013

Modi escaped, Chandy did not, Rahul erred; We may be in for a season of violence

Will this election be the most violent in our history? There has never been so much hatred among political rivals as we see today. There is also a now-or-never desperation among aspirants to power. The result is a volatile atmosphere in which anything is possible. Almost all political parties have professional killer gangs at their disposal. Many have killers and kidnappers in their cabinets. The virus has spread to society at large. Girls travelling alone, old people living alone, even pre-school children are attacked and often killed. India, proud of its tradition of tolerance and ahimsa, has turned into a theatre of brutality. Savagery in action is matched by savagery in thought.

Two incidents that made headlines last week are revealing. The bomb blasts that preceded Narendra Modi's rally in Patna showed not only the wrecklessness of present day politics but also how erratic the authorities can get. Given the animosity between Modi and Bihar's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Bihar leader should have ensured foolproof security lest his intentions came under suspicion. What in fact happened dented his image while Narendra Modi got the benefit of a sympathy wave.

Similar was the outcome of an attack on Kerala's Chief Minister in the communist stronghold of Kannur. Oommen Chandy became India's first Chief Minister to be hit by a stone hurled at him by political opponents. He was inside a car which was surrounded by pilot cars, escort cars, Rapid Action Force and Ring Round Squad, yet the stone hit him. Either the stone thrower deserves to be sent to the next Olympics or the State Home Ministry must be wound up so that police politics will give way to police efficiency. For now, though, the attackers' purpose was defeated. Chandy won sympathy as he used the occasion to the hilt.

The unintentional effects of what perpetrators of violence do are sometimes matched by the unintentional effects of what victims of violence say. Rahul Gandhi is known for his serial references to his family's sacrifices. The latest tear-jerker is how it took him 10 to 15 years to overcome the anger he felt towards the Sikh bodyguards who killed his grandmother. He no doubt meant well and was speaking from the heart, as he said; a man whose father was assassinated as well as his grandmother. But he is a politician and should have known what his words would mean to others.

Jawaharlal Nehru's sisters, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Krishna Hutheesingh, did not endear themselves to the people by talking -- and writing -- about "We Nehrus". The same self-importance led Rajiv Gandhi to justify the pitiless massacre of Sikhs in retaliation to Indira Gandhi's killing. His infamous words, "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes", still rankle. Thousands of Sikhs saw their innocent family members being mutilated and burned alive by thugs led by Congress leaders. How many years will they need to get over their anger? How many years will it take for the average tax-paying citizens of this great country to get over their anger at the politicians who graduate from scam to scam without shame?

Pair this festering anger with the communal hatreds being fanned by votebank chasers, and we get an explosive situation. The Muzaffarpur rioting sent a chilling message. Hatreds are still on fire there. Incredible as it may seem, UP's Home Secretary issued a circular asking senior officials to think about building a temple at the Babri Masjid site. The Home Secretary was suspended, but that did not explain his conduct or the influences that propelled him. Unseen forces seem to be at work, inciting one section of people against another. They seem to forget that no Narendra Modi and no Rahul Gandhi can save an India that is at war with itself. Two facts cry out for attention this election season. First, violence will achieve nothing for nobody. Secondly, the cultural linguistic religious diversity of India can be a source of strength, or a means of destruction. The choice, alas, is not with us the people as of now. It is with the Devil Class that rules us.