Dr Modi and Mr Hyde
On the very day that Lalu Yadav marched to the Prime Minister's residence demanding Narendra Modi's arrest in the wake of the Tehelka sting expose, a small group of Sikh widows were protesting at the Capital's Jantar Mantar on the 23rd anniversary of the anti-Sikh riots. One eye on the television cameras, the other firmly on the Muslim vote, Lalu was making the headlines. The Sikh widows were yesterday's story. While the 2002 Gujarat riots have become a cause celebre for the secular establishment, 1984 has never quite acquired the same profile.
On the face of it, the anti-Sikh riots were far more horrific than the post-Godhra violence. More than 2,700 people were killed in 1984 as per the official death toll, in Gujarat it was a little over a thousand. The '84 riots have seen just 13 convictions, in Gujarat, the fast track courts have already convicted more than 15 persons in different cases. The 84 riots occurred in several high security areas in the heart of the national Capital, the 2002 violence was spread across large stretches of Gujarat. As a powerful recent book When A Tree Shook Delhi confirms, senior Congress politicians, including union ministers, were actually present on the streets, allegedly leading the mobs in 1984; in Gujarat, the direct evidence against the Modi cabinet members is still based principally on police phone records. While then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did make some token attempt to distance himself from the Gujarat rioters, it took a Sikh Congress prime minister in 2005 to finally accept that 1984 was a "national shame", and that the truth had never come out. Rajiv Gandhi's statement that, "when a big tree falls, the earth shakes" is recorded history; Narendra Modi's "action-reaction" comment was officially denied.
Why then is Modi such a hate figure today for the secularists while Rajiv Gandhi, then home minister, Narasimha Rao, and the entire top Congress leadership has escaped public censure? The answer might unlock not just the Modi enigma, but also the content of Indian secularism, and perhaps indicate just how much India has changed in the last two decades. Firstly, in 1984 the Indian judiciary was perhaps a little less adversarial towards the politician than it is today, and certainly less pro-active in driving the political agenda. There was no Supreme Court as willing to directly indict the political leadership as it is today: Modi was likened to Nero by Chief Justice VN Khare; in 1984, the Supreme Court would have probably seen such a remark as a transgression of judicial authority.
Secondly, the human rights activists were perhaps far less organized in 1984 than they are today. The ability to create a sustained moral and legal pressure on the system, to network with other NGOs and to cultivate the media is perhaps far greater now than it was in 1984, although many groups like the PUCL and PUDR as well as the Nagrik Ekta Manch did embark on processions and fact finding missions. A Teesta Setalvad can actually become a rallying point for those seeking justice in a manner that was perhaps not possible 23 years ago.
Thirdly, and most crucially, the 2002 riots were the first in the age of round the clock 'live' television. Gujarat was India's first television riot. There was remarkable journalism done in the 80s (as also after Ayodhya), but somehow the power and sanctity of the written word cannot match the impact and immediacy of the television image. Then, whether it was the visuals of street carnage five years ago, or the voices of Sangh parivar footsoldiers bragging about their "achievements" with chilling candour, the audio-visual image has the ability to confirm, even magnify, the gravity of the crime in a way that at times even the finest prose cannot. The television camera reduced the mental and geographical distance between the Gujarat riots and a national viewership in a manner that the newspaper in 1984 could not. It also, especially in the context of a paralysed political class, became the "real" opposition, questioning and challenging the Gujarat government's claims to be a non-partisan upholder of the Constitution.
Ironically, what the dramatic television images also did was transform Narendra Modi into a larger than life figure: from a relatively anonymous pracharak who had never fought an election he was now, either the hero or villain of hate politics, depending on one's ideological leanings. Modi, in fact, brilliantly used the media exposure to create the spectre of a confrontation between himself and the so-called "anti-Hindu" English language media. The sharp rhetoric in public speeches, the intimidatory tone towards journalists, and even the recent walk-out from an interview were deliberately designed to position himself as a macho hero who was being targeted by an ideological media. Indeed, by pigeonholing the non-Gujarati media in particular as 'enemy number one", Modi was able to cultivate a sense of "us" versus "them" within his core constituency. As a result, far from being apologetic about the post-Godhra violence, he was almost dismissive of the criticism. This seeming lack of remorse at the violence has only added to the polarization: the critics demonized him, his supporters valourised him as a Hindu Hriday Samrat.
In a sense, Modi has become symbolic of the Hindu-Muslim fault-lines that exist in our society, a symbol of the darkness within. Those fault-lines between Hindu and Muslim run far deeper and are far more central to identity politics than the Hindu-Sikh divide of the 1980s could ever have been. The divide of the 80s was a temporary eruption, occasioned more by political mismanagement than any fundamental shift in attitudes between members of the two communities. The scars of 1984 could be healed with time, because the origins of the Hindu-Sikh tension were not based on historic resentments and popular prejudices.
2002, by contrast, and rather uncomfortably, appears to be part of a more sustained campaign of hate, prejudice and violence between Hindus and Muslims, one which tapped into a wider constituency in Gujarat and beyond. Which is why there isn't a greater sense of collective outrage at the behaviour of those caught on camera detailing the worst possible crimes against humanity. Which is also why a substantial section of the rank and file of BJP, a party whose rise in national politics was spurred by the growing communal divide, appears to have endorsed Modi's brand of politics.
Interestingly, the original patent to this type of militant Hindutva politics belonged to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Like Modi in 2002, Thackeray too was unapologetic about his actions during the '92-'93 Mumbai riots. In fact, he went a step further than Modi when he openly said, "he was proud of his boys". Both Modi and Thackeray reveled in their image as authoritarian political bosses who would tolerate no internal dissent. Like Modi, Thackeray too has attempted to create an 'enemy-like situation" with the the English language media , one designed purely to reinforce his stature as the "supremo" among his supporters.
The difference is that while Thackeray had little to offer beyond the demagoguery, Modi as chief minister has chosen a "Hindutva-plus" model, one in which a fierce commitment to ideology is matched by an equally aggressive commitment to economic growth. While Thackeray has often been dismissed as an eccentric rabble-rouser, Modi enjoys the stature of being a focused, workaholic chief minister.
So, while sociologist Ashis Nandy may have come out of a meeting with Modi ten years ago and warned a colleague that he had met the country's first "textbook fascist", industrialists who shared a dais with him at the Vibrant Gujarat celebrations last year admiringly described him as a "growth-oriented, highly motivated chief minister'. Perhaps, it's this dualism - Dr Modi and Mr Hyde - that lies at the heart of the Modi phenomenon. Not only does he appeal to the desire for greater material progress, but his existence is perhaps a symbol of a hidden alter ego, a doppleganger that undoubtedly still exists in many Hindu hearts. Modi says in public, what many may say in private. A centuries-old, unsaid prejudice that still has not been properly confronted and cauterised is Modi's secret weapon. It makes him more electable. And also more feared.
More about Rajdeep SardesaiRajdeep Sardesai is the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He comes with 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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