It’s become the commonest defence the BJP puts up when Narendra Modi is attacked on the 2002 Godhra riots; that the Congress is guilty of a similar carnage during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. No Congress spokesperson has been able to hold his head up and point out the differences between the two. However there is a big difference. The difference is in the way the two parties have responded politically post the events.
Post the reprehensible incidents, both political parties have responded very differently. The Congress has tried to make amends; as a result, the Sikhs have largely forgiven the Congress. But the BJP has made no amends at all. In fact, it has gone the opposite way and made Godhra the centerpiece of its political strategy in Gujarat and now, in a sublte way by making Amit Shah in charge of UP, nationally. Modi’s innings as Gujarat CM began with Godhra. There is no question of him abandoning the Godhra strategy. Or apologizing for the carnage. He is happy to enjoy the love and affection his fellow Gujaratis have showered over him….by voting for him again and again.
How has the response to the two parties been different? The Congress apologized to the Sikhs. In public 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. 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, she also offered an olive branch to the Sikh community.
The Sikhs forgave the Congress, though they never forgot the carnage itself. 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 latest polls in the state was considered an unexpected shock; and was attributed to factors not related to the 1984 events.
In contrast, the BJP made no amends. The party retained it’s hardline Hindutva imagery. Neither the party nor Modi has ever apologized to the Muslim community. The BJP abused its power over the Gujarat police while probing the Godhra riots (after having severely abused it during the riots); as well as over the state judiciary which had become completely saffronized. Things became so bad that investigative functions had to be handed over to an SIT; and Godhra hearings moved outside the state. The state continued its perseculation of Muslims. One after another, fake encounters took place in the state. The state government refused to pony up monies for the restoration of mosques destroyed during the riots. 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. If anything, it wears Godhra on its sleeve – preserving its image of being as much anti-Muslim as it is pro-Hindu. That stance has polarized the country completely. It has helped it win power repeatedly in Gujarat (and MP). But it has caused it to lose power everywhere else in the country.
In the Center, the BJP was booted out in 2004 immediatley after Godhra. 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; Godhra couldn’t help it revive the Babri frenzy. In Maharashtra, where the equally saffron Shiv Sena is its ally, the alliance has ruled only once for 4 years since 1995; and never after Godhra. In Bihar, its ally of 17 years broke relations recently.
The BJP of course says it is has been fair to the Muslims. It uses the fact that it made APJ Abdul Kalam the President to prove this. That was a good thing to do; but it looks like an exception that has never been repeated. Can we ever imagine the BJP making a Muslim its party President, forget the PM of the country? Never. In fact, the BJP projects Modi as its future PM candidate. And Modi hasn’t even given a single seat in the state elections to Muslim candidates. He hasn’t done it ever 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. Forget the Muslims. How many Christian faces are there in the party? None. The BJP is proud of its staunch Hindu character. Even in that domain, it remains exclusivist and strongly Brahminical. The BJP’s inherent nature is to polarize. It polarized the country on the Hindu-Muslim axis. It polarized the Hindus on the Brahmin-others axis.
In the end, the Congress apologized to the Sikhs, gave power to them, made a Sikh the PM, and has included Sikhs in the party’s power structure. The BJP has never apologized to the Muslims and Christians (remember how Dara Singh – a Bajrang Dal member – murdered Christian missionary Graham Staines in Orissa in 1999?); never given them power; obviously never made a Muslim or Christian the PM or even party President; and rather than including them in its party, has intentionally alienated them further. This is the difference that must be remembered. There may be similarities in the mistake committed initially; but the corrective actions taken thereafter are totally divergent.
The real truth is that the Congress remains culturally, religiously and socially heterogeneous; the BJP a Brahminical monolith, with Modi a convenient “adjustment” for now. 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.
(Note: This post was uploaded first in Dec 2012….this is a slightly updated one)