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Monday, December 16, 2002
A Time for Introspection in the Land of Gandhi
By Raju Rajagopal

The shocking news from Gujarat is still ringing in my
ears: the very politicians who were seen as the
perpetrators of the worst carnage in India's history
have been handed a landslide electoral victory!
India's pluralistic ethos that we all grew up with,
and the Hindu values that many of us imbibed at home,
seem to have taken a severe beating at the hands of a
communalized majority. The edifice of Indian
democracy, which we have always proudly defended to
our friends overseas, notwithstanding its frailties,
is shaking at its very foundation.

Where did we go wrong? How did the intelligent voters
of Gujarat not see through the vicious hate campaign
and indoctrination that has been going on in the name
of all the Hindus? If they were rightly incensed and
pained by the torching of innocent Hindu pilgrims on a
train, shouldn't they have been a hundred times more
troubled and angered by the images of innocent
Muslims, who had nothing whatsoever to do with Godhra,
being torched alive, and of women being raped and
burned and hacked to pieces for no fault of theirs?
How could they miss the one opportunity to say NO to
those remorseless politicians, who have been standing
unashamedly atop the graves they had dug, to proclaim
themselves to be the sole champions of Gujarat's

I for one refuse to believe that Gujaratis have turned
overnight into unfeeling, stonehearted rakshasas, out
to destroy their minorities. Rather, I believe that
they have themselves been cruel victims of a
brilliantly choreographed and orchestrated political
strategy of the Sangh Parivar, which has been on the
anvil for quite some time. Thanks to Godhra, that
hate-based strategy has been successfully show-cased
in Gujarat beyond the wildest dreams of its
architects--to the point that otherwise decent human
beings refuse to believe the scale of brutality that
took place right under their noses, and rationalize
the inhumanity that they did behold, as a legitimate
expression of Hindu frustration.

Well, the citizens of Gujarat have now spoken loudly
and clearly. The Sangh Parivar has won a democratic
victory at the battle box, proving that violence does
pay?even in the land of the apostle of non-violence.
Surely, they deserve to be left alone, at least for
the time being, to savor their triumph and to issue
their "fatwas."

For others, this is a time of serious reckoning: to
look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we too
have been unwitting partners in the diabolical plan to
divide Indians from Indians; to own up to the ugly
reality that the Parivar's triumph is in many ways a
direct reflection of our collective failings.

If we are serious about averting a repetition of the
Gujarat "experiment" in other states, we must begin a
serious introspection on our singular failure to gauge
the vastly changed mood of "Middle India," which in
the past could always be counted on to exercise its
franchise in a fair manner, and which has time and
again rescued the nation from sinking into a political
abyss. Many people had hoped that the same silent
majority would be able to rescue Gujarat from the
tyranny of the last ten months. Alas, the vehement
voting in favor of BJP drives home the unmistakable
message that Middle India is now synonymous with a
Hindu majority, which has been deeply communalized.

If there is one lesson that we can all take home from
Gujarat, it is this: there will be no long term
communal harmony in this nation until we win back the
hearts and minds of Middle India. And that is going to
be well nigh impossible unless each community is ready
to think the unthinkable, speak the unspeakable, and
do the unimaginable.

As Muslim Indians, are we ready to break free from our
"victimhood," and embrace a more enlightened
leadership, which is willing to place education, jobs
and housing above all other issues, and is willing to
constructively engage Middle India? Are we willing to
call the Parivar's bluff on issues like the Ram
Janambhoomi and Hajj subsidies, and reassess our
uninformed opposition to a dialogue on the Uniform
Civil Code?

As Christian Indians, possibly the next target of the
Parivar's vicious campaign, are we ready to
acknowledge that the issue of conversions cuts very
deep into the Hindu psyche, notwithstanding all the
constitutional provisions and demographic statistics
that we are fond of throwing up at every opportunity?
Do we understand that every new evangelist and faith
healer that we brook in our midst spawns another
legion of followers for VHP's brand of Hinduism?

As religious Hindus, are we ready to challenge our
spiritual leaders on the significance of their
near-unanimous silence in the face of massive
inhumanity in Gujarat? How do they reconcile their
mauna with the spirit of Hinduism that they have been
lecturing us on? Are they content to sit back as VHP
tries to hijack our Hinduism, or are they willing to
forge a new religious alliance to save Hinduism from
Hindutva, and to save our nation from a possible civil

As Hindus who normally abhor violence of any sort, but
who rationalized the Gujarat violence as a lesson that
needed to be taught to the minorities, are we now
willing to concede that there is no such thing as
controlled violence; that once we have created an
extra-constitutional militia, it will be impossible to
put the genie back in the bottle; that the thirst of
such groups for hatred and violence will inexorably
consume the nation and is sure to land them one day
right on our own doorsteps?

As committed journalists and academics, are we willing
to grant that there indeed are legitimate grievances
by the majority community; that we may have created
significant hurdles to dialogue by the harsh terms of
our rhetoric, often replete with stereotypical
expressions like saffronization, infiltration,
chaddiwallahs, and so on--expressions that are as
biting as the term pseudo-secularist, which has been
so successfully employed to de-legitimize us in the
minds of Middle India?

Passionate as we are about the plight of the
marginalized peoples, are we as human rights activists
and development experts, willing to take serious steps
to build bridges to Middle India, which may well
necessitate working closely with religious groups, a
path scrupulously avoided in the past? Are we willing
to embark upon a strategy of progressively weaning
ourselves away from the "yoke" of foreign funding,
which complicates our active engagement in the task of

All together, are we willing to acknowledge that the
Congress party's bankrupt "Soft Hindutva" strategy in
Gujarat exploded in its face, and was bound to fail
from the get go; that it is futile for us to trash the
Sangh Parivar unless we are ready to work together to
create a credible alternative political force in the
country, which is ready to redefine the very nature of
our secular polity?

Whoever we are, wherever we are, we Indians have our
work cut out for us. So let us head back to our
respective communities and constituencies to begin the
grim task of re-converting Middle India. The future of
our beloved nation is at stake.

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