In the last four years, investigating agencies have been used to protect criminals and give succour to those charged with serious crimes. Attempts have been made to appoint those who have been close to the ruling establishment in key investigating agencies, including the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Intelligence Bureau (IB). Both the Samjhauta Express blast case and the encounter which led to the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh have witnessed a spate of U-turns by the CBI as well as the NIA, which seem to have reviewed the evidence in these cases.
In fact, the manner in which the Sohrabuddin trial was conducted, leading to bail being granted to the prime accused, is a black mark on the Indian jurisprudence. To the common man, it seems that attempts were being made to pressurise the public prosecutor in one case, and in other cases, to ensure that those who have given evidence to the police are declared hostile during the trial, making sure that there is not enough evidence to convict the accused.
The attempt to reverse the outcomes of prosecutions through biased investigators and prosecutors, and maybe through government diktat, is dangerous.
Rohini Salian, the NIA’s special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, has claimed that she was asked to “go soft” on the case after the Modi government took over. In the Ajmer blast case, public prosecutor Ashwini Sharma also went on record saying that the NIA could have done a great deal more to build the case against prime accused Swami Aseemanand and the seven other accused. Even more disturbing is the fact that the police officers accused of serious crimes and undergoing trial were reinducted to the government positions and, in some cases, granted promotions. We have had instances of judges being transferred overnight if they chose to reject certain applications moved by the accused. We have also seen instances of those within the prosecuting agencies being rewarded for having supported the cause of the establishment.
Such actions are entirely inconsistent with the manner in which administrations have dealt with the accused in the past. The brazenness with which this government has rehabilitated those out on bail who were yet accused of very serious crimes, is evidence of its I-don’t-care attitude. This also sends a signal to those who support the present dispensation that they have nothing to fear; and that they will be institutionally protected. Those who are opposed to the present dispensation are both persecuted and prosecuted. The message is clear – “if you criticise and tarnish our image, we will use the prosecuting agencies to target you”. This two- pronged strategy of buying loyalty and silencing dissent is the hallmark of the present dispensation.
It is noteworthy that while the law was taking its course in the context of members of the majority community accused of being involved in terrorist activity, important leaders of the BJP were publicly making statements suggesting that the accused had been framed.
Had any such statement been made by a member belonging to the community of those accused in the Godhra train burning incident, it would have been regarded as anti-national, and those making such statements would not only have been targeted, but would have been charged with being pro-Pakistan. It is an act of nationalism to suggest the innocence of the accused when members of the majority community are involved. However, it is an act of betrayal if anyone dares speak about the possible innocence of some of those members of the minority community allegedly involved in acts of terror. It is the nature of this discourse that reflects the majoritarian mindset quality when dealing with acts of terror. All acts of terror must not only be condemned, but those involved must be brought to book, regardless of the community they belong to.
Over the years, Modi has been able to ride the wave of this majoritarian mindset and reap enormous political capital in the process. It was in the aftermath of the Godhra incident that Modi realised the simmering anger of the people and chose to exploit it to his political advantage. That is why in the run-up to the 2014 election, Modi never hesitated to vilify the UPA. He alleged that the government was pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu, that it dealt with Pakistan with kid gloves and followed the policy of Muslim appeasement.
After becoming the prime minister, Modi has adopted a more statesman-like posture without losing any opportunity to exploit the same majoritarian sentiment.
An enduring theme which runs through this majoritarian mindset is the polarisation of “us” and “them”. It is the “us” who talk about love jihad and target young people expressing their emotions without thinking about the religious community they belong to. The concept of ghar wapsi, which is a way of celebrating homecoming, suggests that somehow the association with the other religion was a horrible mistake. Both love jihad and ghar wapsi have become a part of public discourse, that further promotes a certain mindset. The 2015 Dadri mob lynching and the manner in which four Dalits were stripped and mercilessly beaten in Una, Gujarat, for allegedly trading livestock, are all symptomatic of caste and communal schisms. Whether these instances are engineered or not is an open question. However, such instances of lynching disturb the nation’s peace and harmony.
Whenever the BJP fights a state election, its ministers are more than willing to blatantly make communal remarks in order to polarise the people for electoral gain. Modi quietly espouses this since he never comments on remarks made by Yogi Adityanath or his minister Sanjeev Balyan, or Sadhvi Prachi and several others within the BJP. Yet, the Prime Minister chooses not to condemn all those making such inflammatory statements. This does not reflect any change of heart, but merely a change of tactics by the PM.
Another aspect of Modi’s strategy is to be regarded as a symbol of the essence of Hindu culture which, to the rest of the world, epitomises tolerance, but to Modi means an unconditional loyalty that brooks no resistance. The intolerant Hindu is Modi’s mascot. This is antithetical to all that Hinduism stands for and has stood for over centuries. Perhaps that is why the RSS opposed Mahatma Gandhi. It is Gandhi’s message of tolerance, coupled with an innate sense of justice, which was unacceptable to the mindset of the Hindu Mahasabha in the Sangh Parivar. They believed that the Mahatma pandered to a community which deserved no sympathy. While the Mahatma stood for non-violence, those who opposed him were not hesitant to use violence. The mindset that represents intolerance is at the helm of a airs in India today. The RSS believes in the grandeur of Hindu culture and its innate superiority to all others. They also believe in rationalising acts of violence and intolerance by attributing the genesis to the failings of the other side.
Yet, the seeds of the decline of Modi’s popularity will be sown by the attempts of such a mindset to rule India.
The ordinary Hindu is tolerant, eclectic and thoughtful and believes in the live-and-let-live principle. It is the chasm between this mindset, given to intolerance, and the Hindu mind, committed to tolerance, that will cause the ultimate downfall of the Modi government. The attempt to hark back and extol the virtues of a culture that excelled in both science and technology, and, in a sense, to revel in the past without seeking to grapple with problems of the present – and future challenges – will be Modi’s undoing.
The cleaving of our society along religious lines is the surest way to sow seeds of discontent, that will eventually erupt in one form or the other. This path is dangerous. The politics of hate may lead to electoral victories; but, in the long run, our battle to succeed in this unique experiment of democracy will fail. We are surrounded by nations where democratic traditions are either absent or nascent. Embracing democracy and democratic traditions is the only way forward. India today is experiencing not a clash of civilisations, but of mindsets, and the winner of this battle will ultimately determine the future of the country. What Modi promises is a future bedevilled with conflict. We need to embrace a future where conflict is replaced with dialogue and reconciliation.
By catering to an aspirational India, endearing himself to the middle class, fuelling the communal agenda and distancing himself from it after having reaped political and electoral benefits, Modi believes he will be able to sustain himself and be ready for 2019.
Excerpted with permission from Shades of Truth: A Journey Derailed, Kapil Sibal, Rupa Publications.