The petty blacklisting of actor Amitabh Bachchan for being the brand ambassador of Gujarat exposes India’s pseudo secularists for what they really are – a bunch of intolerant demagogues.
It’s a full-time job staying abreast of the colourful epithets that come spinning out of India’s political landscape. The latest one, “Taliban of untouchability”, coined by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, is interesting in its sweep.
The term is the perfect label for India’s pseudo secularists who are trying to brand Modi –plus anyone and everyone associated with him – into a political untouchable for his alleged failure to prevent the retaliatory killings of Muslims in 2002 following the murder of 57 Hindu pilgrims in Godhra, Gujarat.
This gaggle of pseudo secularists comprises sundry communists, Congress leaders, fringe academics, Muslim activists and sections of the media. The pressure exerted by this group has been so successful that Modi has become a four letter word for some of India’s liberals.
And in tandem with Christian fundamentalist senators in the United States, this group has even managed to influence Washington to ban the democratically elected Indian leader from entering America. (It’s another matter that America really has no locus standi here, as it is an entirely domestic Indian issue.)
The latest salvo by the anti-Modi nexus has been fired at veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan, whose only ‘fault’ was endorsing Gujarat tourism. The Congress, in a 21 century reprise of McCarthyism, has gone after the 67 year old actor, demanding that Bachchan clarify what he thinks of Modi’s role in the 2002 riots.
Even by the low standards of political discourse in India, the Congress’ malice pushes the boundaries of generally accepted conduct. By their rulebook, anyone and anything associated with Modi is considered polluted. As the indefatigable BJP leader said, “Next they’ll ban Amul butter and denim because they are both made in Gujarat.”
That remark was not far off the mark. The Congress shouting brigade objected to Bachchan’s presence at a government function in Mumbai, and party workers ripped off posters of his actor son Abhishek. The controversy is likely to erupt again on May 1 when Gujarat observes its golden jubilee. Bachchan will be taking part in the lavish celebrations that the state government has planned, and the Congress has warned the star's presence in the celebrations will again bring him in the line of fire.
Shrill sloganeering was a hallmark of Congress politics even during M.K. Gandhi’s days, but now it is totally replacing informed debate. The party apparently is so frustrated at Modi’s popularity in Gujarat that it is willing to blacklist the entire state. In the eyes of India’s pseudo secularists, India’s most prosperous and peaceful state is a rogue. In fact, the Congress has declared it will be boycotting the jubilee celebrations.
Lost in this haze of McCarthyism and outright lies is the real picture. Take the number of those killed in the riots. Initially, the pseudo secularists claimed 2,000 Muslims were killed. Of late the figure has been inflated to 3,000. Who knows, 20 years from now it could snowball to a fantastic number!
But facts tell a different story:
* In its issue dated 20 May 2002, India Today weekly reported the Gujarat toll at 972. In this, India Today included the 57 Hindus killed in Godhra.
* In May 2002, Nagpur’s The Hitavada reported 936 people killed – nearly identical to India Today’s tally if you remove the Godhra figure.
* In a news item dated 11 May 2005, the Indian Express quoted Congress leader and Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal’s statement before Parliament that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the riots.
How many times have you read that Hindus too were killed in the Gujarat riots? Has there been one – just one – story, among the thousands, about some NGO setting up a camp for the families of the 254 Hindus killed? At least I haven’t.
And that’s the crux of the matter. India’s secularists will be out of a job if they reveal that Hindus were killed as well. For them, the riots were a pogrom, no less. For that reason they keep talking about Muslim deaths alone.
To be sure, the killing of Muslims is to be condemned. Muslims are equal citizens of India – no more, no less. However, because of the pseudo secularists’ communal tilt, the killing of Hindu pilgrims in Godhra is being airbrushed out of the picture. If at all Godhra is mentioned, the purveyors of lies coldly dismiss it as a Muslim backlash against Hindutva. The same yardstick is not applied to the Gujarat riots. Hindu fundamentalism, rather than Hindu anger at Godhra, is to be blamed as per the handbook of our warped secularists.
The same bunch applauding the Special Investigation Team (SIT) for its marathon 10-hour grilling of Modi is ignoring the fact that the agency had in 2009 censured foaming-at-the-mouth activist Teesta Setalvad and her NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace.
The SIT report says on page 10 that three alleged witnesses “had brought with them ready-made statements prepared on computer and requested the IO (investing officer) to take them on record. The IO explained to them that according to law they had to be questioned and examined and their statements reduced in writing by the IO’’.
It goes on to say, ‘‘On questioning them in respect of the typed statements, all 3 of them stated that the computerised prepared statements were given to them by Smt Teesta Setalvad and advocate Tirmiji and that they had merely signed and initialled on such prepared statements.’’
And in a damming indictment of Teesta, the report continues, “There are discrepancies between the prepared statements and statements recorded by the IO. In respect of 6 witnesses, there are contradictory statements relating to the names of the accused they were linking with (the) crime.”
In a report dated April 14, 2009, The Times of India reported: “Many incidents of killings and violence were cooked up, false charges were levelled against then police chief P.C. Pandey and false witnesses were tutored to give evidence about imaginary incidents, the SIT said. It also found no truth in the following incidents widely publicised by the NGOs:
* A pregnant Muslim woman Kausar Banu was gangraped by a mob, who then gouged out the foetus with sharp weapons. The media has not bothered to question Setalvad for this horrendous lie.
* Dumping of dead bodies into a well by rioters at Naroda Patiya.
* Police botching up investigations into the killing of British nationals.”
The 2009 movie Firaaq added more fuel to the Guajrat fire. The film, co-written by New Zealand-based Shuchi Kothari and B-grade actor Nandita Das, portrayed Hindus as evil caricatures who enjoy raping Muslim women and then talking about it at leisure. The violence suffered by the Hindus has been completed ignored. Das, when asked why she did not show the other side, replied with callous indifference: “There is no other side.” Predictably, Firaaq won a slew of awards worldwide and also in Pakistan, where it won best picture. But then what do you expect of people who for the sake of adulation in Pakistan and the West, show India as a land of people who just came down from the trees?
The Goebbelsian propaganda has worked. Many middle class Hindus were overcome with revulsion after hearing stories of the riots, especially the fictitious one about the pregnant woman. The liberal elite continue to associate Modi and the Hindu parties with genocide and murderous acts they never committed. Women voters, especially, have pulled away from the right.
Such utter disregard for the truth is having extremely dangerous consequences. Several terrorists apprehended by the police have revealed they were motivated to create terror cells and blow up innocent people after reading about the so-called pogroms.
May 1 will reveal how far the Congress will go in baiting Modi. For all you know, the Congress coterie might well slap a ban on Amul butter. After all, in 1975 the same party got Kishore Kumar songs unofficially banned from All India Radio because the singer refused to perform at a Youth Congress rally.
Isn’t it bizarre that we are living in an age when India’s greatest actor is treated like an untouchable for becoming the Brand Ambassador of an Indian state, while another actor Shahrukh Khan is feted for saying “Pakistan is a wonderful neighbour to have”?
(About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a features writer at Fairfax New Zealand. He has previously worked with Businessworld, India Today and Hindustan Times, and was news editor with the Financial Express.)
1. Maximum terror attacks during Congress rule says noted security expert B Raman
2. Did Godhra Save Pakistan by Col Anil Athale
3. Godhra: The True Story by Nicole Elfi
4. Do foreign contributions to India impact national security FCRA Report 2007-08 by Sanjeev Nayyar