While watching another inane debate on a news channel last night, I was appalled by the attempt made by the anchor and the BJP spokesperson to compare the anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom of 2002 with the anti-Sikh 1984 one. Of course, there are similarities – one particular community was targeted; the government didn’t do enough to stop the carnage; and thousands died. However, that’s where the comparison ends. In the years that followed, the Congress apologized and took corrective steps; the BJP didn’t.
The Congress made amends (this post points out how); as a result, the Sikhs have forgiven the Congress. But the BJP has made no amends at all. In fact, it has gone the opposite way and made Godhra and Hindutva the centerpiece of its political strategy. Modi’s innings as Gujarat CM began with Godhra. There is no way he will abandon this. Or apologize for it. He thoroughly enjoys the love and affection fellow saffronites shower on him for this (remember he is called the Hindu Hriday Samrat?). But the Muslims have never forgiven the BJP. Nor have the Christians.
How did the Congress make amends? The Congress apologized to the Sikhs. Publicly. In words and in action. Sonia Gandhi made Manmohan Singh the PM even though no one would have given him that chance. The Sikhs felt assuaged. It was the Congress’s way of apologizing; by handing over the most powerful position in the country to a Sikh. Not once, but twice. Of course, there were political reasons that Sonia had for doing so; but she grabbed the chance. Of course, Manmohan Singh’s brilliant record as a bureaucrat; his courageous reforms under Narasimha Rao; his intellectual prowess; and his apolitical nature all made him the “natural” choice. In making Manmohan Singh the PM, Sonia hit two birds with one stone. Not only did she give the nation an able PM (forget what the saffronites think), she also offered an olive branch to the Sikh community.
Did the Sikhs forgive the Congress? Yes. Since 1984, the Sikhs in Punjab voted the Congress to power twice for a total of 10 years; the SAD – the party of the Sikhs – managed only slightly better at thrice for 12 years (before the current tenure started). The loss of the Congress in the recent polls in the state was considered an unexpected result; and was attributed to factors not related to 1984. Had the Congress won Punjab this time (as was expected), it would have been in power longer than the SAD.
The BJP, on the other hand, made no amends. It grudgingly abandoned its hardline Hindutva for a while under coalition compulsions, but now with Modi at the helm, it has very much revived a more vicious version of it. 1) Narendra Modi has never apologized to the Muslims, using guttural language instead, to obfuscate the matter, and even hurt them more (remember the puppy bit?). 2) The BJP routinely abused its police in Gujarat while probing the riots (after having severely abused it during the riots); as well as the state judiciary which had become completely saffronized. Things became so bad that investigative functions had to be handed over to an SC appointed SIT and the CBI; and court hearings had to be moved outside the state. 3) The state continued its persecution of Muslims after 2002. One after another fake encounters was carried out in the state. 4) The state government refused to pony up monies for the restoration of mosques destroyed during the riots (eventually the SC forced it to do so). 5) When the BJP’s Minister of Home during the riots Haren Pandya was murdered, the state made attempts (and succeeded initially) to put the blame on innocent muslims from Hyderabad. All this indicates that the BJP is not contrite. This has helped it win power repeatedly in Gujarat and MP. But it has caused it to lose power everywhere else.
The people have repeatedly punished the BJP for Gujarat. At the Center, the BJP was booted out in 2004 immediatley after the riots (though the BJP expected to win because of its India Shining campaign, just like it thinks it will win now). In UP – where it all started with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 – the party has never wielded power since the Babri days. In Maharashtra, where the equally saffron Shiv Sena is its ally, the BJP has ruled only once for 4 years since 1995; and never after Godhra. In Bihar, its ally, the JD(U), broke off precisely for Modi’s Gujarat record. If today the BJP is a pariah, it is thanks to its non-contrite image.
The BJP says it is has been fair to the Muslims. It says it made APJ Abdul Kalam the President. That was good; but it looks like an exception never to be repeated. Can we imagine the BJP ever making a Muslim or Christian its party President, forget its PM candidate? In fact, Modi hasn’t even given seats in the state elections to Muslim candidates. He hasn’t done it in the past and he is not going to do it in the future. At the national level, how many Muslim faces does one see in the BJP? Except for a few “show pieces”, none. How many Christian faces are there in the party? None. The BJP is proud of its staunch Hindu character. Even here, it remains exclusivist and strongly Brahminical. The BJP’s inherent nature is to polarize. It polarized the country on the Hindu-Muslim axis. It will polarize Hindus on the Brahmin-others axis in the future. Hindus worry about this. That’s why the lower castes never vote for it.
One last point. BJP supporters also mention the several Hindu-Muslim riots that have taken place in the country since independence in an attempt to shame the Congress and show it is as not secular. But the problem with this is that the people have never blamed the Congress for having caused these riots. That the riots happened is indeed shameful, but they didn’t happen because of the Congress. The BJP on the other hand is accused of having directly caused the Gujarat riots. And Babri. And the encounter killings. And more. All riots are unfortunate but when the CM acts, the casualties are smaller (Assam had less than 100 deaths, UP less than 50). When the CM looks the other way, the numbers are obviously higher (2000 died in Gujarat).
The real truth is that there is no comparison between 2002 and 1984. The Congress remains culturally, religiously and socially heterogeneous; the BJP a Brahminical monolith. The Congress’s heterogeneity forced it to apologize to the Sikhs; the BJP’s homogeneity compels it not to do so to the Muslims. The two parties are incomparable; the two incidents likewise.