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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 51

Lower Depths

Tuesday 11 December 2007, by SC


A few days ago an eminent historian with distinct Leftist leaning had indigantly declared that “West Bengal’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is like Gujarat’s Narendra Modi”. What he had in mind was Buddha’s “paid-back-in-the-same-coin” statement following the CPM cadres’ (the harmad vahinis’) violent recapture of Nandigram in 2007 that sounded uncannily similar to Modi’s “every-action-has-an-equal-and-opposite-reaction” observation in the wake of the post-Godhra riots in 2002. In both cases the attempt was to justify the unjustifiable, defend the indefensible.

Subsequently Buddha has sought to make amends. In New Delhi for his party’s Polit-Bureau meeting, he met the press and, in a damage control mode, regretted having said that the Opposition in Nandigram was “paid back in the same coin”. The effect of the distinguished historian’s anguished cry was indeed far-reaching. Belatedly Buddha adopted a defensive posture in a bid to disarm his critics whose ranks have swollen of late due to Nandigram, the Rizwanur Rehman affair and the Taslima Nasreen episode. However, Buddha’s self-critical approach needs to be commended although one must simultaneously point to what has been editorially mentioned in The Times of India:

The apology is worthwhile only if Buddhadeb shows the courage to unravel the administrative and political failure of the Left Front government in Nandigram that he admitted to. That should prod him to raise uncomfortable questions about the political culture fostered by CPM in West Bengal. Can he ask the party to rethink the way it conducts politics? Will the Chief Minister show the spunk to tell the party leadership that the role of the government is not to promote the interests of the CPM?

These questions cannot be brushed aside. Yet Buddha’s defensive attitude reflects the positive role of public criticism and intervention by the civil society. The significance of such a development cannot be minimised.

Letus now turn to Narendra Modi. His pronouncements on the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case are most shocking, to say the least. His own government, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, conceded that the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh was a fake encounter and it promised to take the strongest possible action against the police officers involved. And now the State CM justifies the killing, in the course of the Gujarat election campaign and the following day tries to draw a distinction between fake and genuine encounters while defending the latter, thereby implying that Sohrabuddin was killed in an encounter which was not fake. By so doing he nullifies the stand taken by his own government in the Supreme Court. In the circumstances it was but natural for the senior advocate representing Gujarat in the case in the Apex Court to withdraw from it.

Modi’s public utterances are undoubtedly outrageous and merit unequivocal condemnation. Unfortunately we find him earning applause for such statements from the crowd in Gujarat where he gave vent to his feelings. This shows how much Gujarat today has been communalised thanks to the pro-active BJP/RSS in power spreading the venom of Hindutva and the ineptitude and inactivity of the Congress in Opposition.

In West Bengal the intelligentsia as a whole spoke out against the misdeeds of Buddhadeb’s party and the CM too was taken to task. These definitely had some positive impact at least in Buddha’s public conduct if not at the ground level. But in Gujarat Modi has won accolades for his abominable expressions whether in relation to Sohrabuddin or on the issue of Afzal Guru’s execution.

This brings out the contrasts between the two States even though there are disturbing similarities in the manner of functioning of the main political parties in governance in the two provinces.

But beyond all these the question that keeps cropping up relates to the strength that Narendra Modi draws. What is the source of his strength? While seeking an answer to the query we are stunned to find how much the State, under Modi in particular, has moved away from whatever Gandhiji’s Gujarat stood for. And in a flash our collective failure becomes all the more transparent at a time we are observing the fifteenth anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition (that constituted the first major blow to the secular fabric of our nation).

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