Mainstream, VOL LII No 11, March 8, 2014
Tuesday 11 March 2014
From N.C.’s Writings
On September 15, the Prime Minister of India met a gathering of eminent academics from a number of seats of learning in the Capital—Delhi University, Jamia Millia, Jawa-harlal Nehru University and the Institute of Economic Growth. Billed as an informal get-together seeking interaction with the academic community, it turned out to be the occasion for the Prime Minister delivering a prepared speech, manicured with philosophical formulations about secularism, communalism, partition blood-bath, electoral system, Punjab, world capitalist system, Russian Revolution, Gandhiji’s approach to class-conflict etcetra etcetra. It was indeed an impressive copy well composed.
One of the claims made in that Rajiv discourse before the University dons, is tall indeed: “In the perspective of history what we have succeeded in doing is to firmly establish a scale of values by which citizens can judge whether the State and society are functioning according to the overarching idea of secularism or not.”
Made in all seriousness in a carefully prepared document, this claim is daring indeed, when one is confronted with the collapse of values manifest all round. Had there been such a scale of values “firmly established”, there would have been no fiendish outbursts of communal violence as one witnessed in Meerut, and not only in Meerut but many other places as well. What scale of values prevails in Punjab today?
What was striking in that sermon was that nowhere in course of it did Rajiv Gandhi refer to the murder of a young woman in the name of the outlawed superstitious practice of sati perpetrated eleven long days before his speech, at the village of Deorala in Rajasthan—an incident widely reported in the press. Reports now available indicate that the hapless victim was repeatedly pushed into the raging funeral pyre by thugs masquerading as standard-bearers of Rajput chivalry.
Although this heinous practice had been banned by law more than a hundred and fifty years ago, the State Government excelled itself by totally turning a blind eye. It even flouted the injunction of the High Court asking it to stop the observance of the so-called Chunri Mahotsav held on September 17. Although the State Chief Minister was asked to intervene by the Union Minister of Women’s Affairs, he did not care to respond. A Chief Minister has no dearth of police, even armed police force. What he obviously lacks is the will and the inclination to take action in such a case for the mortal fear of the obscurantists who in his eyes, determine the fortunes of political parties and of their leaders. In fact, one of the Joint Secretaries of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress-I actually attended the so-called Chunri Mahotsav.
Recently Rajiv Gandhi, in his capacity as the Congress-I President, announced the long awaited list of brand new AICC-I General Secre-taries, supposed to be the prelude to his long promised reforms to jack up the party. One of these freshly appointed General Secretaries, Chaturvedi, stoutly defended the association of any Congressman in the observance of ceremonies associated with the sati, claiming it as “a matter of personal faith, not a social issue.”
Rajiv Gandhi’s over-active loyalists are never tired of denouncing the rebel Congress group of Arun-Arif-Vishwanath as ganging up with reactionaries: such Rajiv loyalists are now rein-forced by the mighty stalwarts of the Congress Socialist Forum, in claiming that their party and their leader are more secular than the Opposition. What deserves to be noticed is that not only Vishwanath Pratap Singh personally but even the latest Surajkund conclave of the Opposition parties on September 23 has condemned the practice of sati and called for firm measures to stop it. Even if the Opposition leaders’ stand is meant to exploit the ruling party’s reluctance to condemn sati, few in honesty can disagree with their charge of “criminal connivance of the government” in the functions connected with the sati and that the government itself has been encouraging “religious obscurantism and revival of decadent tradition”.
Against this, one has to take note of the conspicuous avoidance so far on the part of Rajiv Gandhi and his party of any condem-nation of the sati. For a Prime Minister mouthing cliches about his destination being the Twenty-first Century, the total silence on this ghastly case of the sati brings out the sheer hypocrisy of his advocacy of secular values.
Thorough-bred opportunism deceives no-body—not even the most simple-headed among the cloistered community of university professors. Hollow shibboleths do not add upto modernism. Do we want Rammohan Roy to return to fight our battle against polluted politics?
(Mainstream, September 26, 1987)