School of Thought

Arun Jaitley's done a terrible job defending Modi's silence

The Union finance minister blames state governments for letting crimes happen but chooses to stay silent on who the criminals are.

 |  School of Thought  |  4-minute read |   16-10-2015
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Even as the country attempts to figure out who the prime minister speaks through on controversial issues, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has spoken, adding his name to the illustrious list of probables.

Defending the silence of the prime minister, Jaitley has questioned the intellectual integrity of writers and artists who have come out against this atmosphere of intolerance.

The comparison is unfair but important. When Goebbels spoke to give a spin to the leaders' acts and ideas, he did so with utmost conviction, and hence sounded convincing.

Mr Jaitley doesn't sound convincing because he himself is not convinced of what he is saying. Mr Jaitley has questioned the silence of intellectuals during the Emergency, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and other riots under Congress rule.

Just to update his knowledge, during the Emergency, a group of Kannada writers circulated, in samizdat form, poems satirising the Emergency and its protagonists. Bengali essayist Annada Shankar Ray announced that he would stop writing altogether as a mark of non-cooperation against the regime. Cartoonist K Shankar Pillai closed down his magazine. Bollywood too made its own contribution.

Arundhati Roy's opposition to the India-US civil nuclear deal signed under the UPA regime became an essential ingredient of anti-nuclear discourse in the country. She provided the intellectual fuel to the political opposition to the deal, when the BJP was still dithering over its stand.

Mr Jaitley appears ignorant about the writings and protests by celebrated writers like Ajeet Kaur, Amrita Pritam, and Habib Tanveer against the 1984 riots.

These are different times Mr Jaitley. Dissent is being violently silenced, even though there is no Emergency. In the flimsiest of arguments offered by spokespersons of the BJP, Jaitley and even the prime minister himself have put the blame for right-wing-sponsored murders of rationalists MM Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar (and even the Dadri lynching) on the state governments. Here of course, they sensibly blank out any reference to the 2002 Gujarat riots when the state and the centre both had BJP governments. Yes, the state government is responsible for law and order within its jurisdiction. Would the prime minister take complete responsibility of the 2002 riots - from the burning of the train at Godhra to everything that followed? Mr Jaitley blames state governments for letting these crimes happen but conveniently chooses to stay silent on who the criminals were. Which organisations did they belong to? What was their ideological driving force? And most importantly, what has been the government's response to statements made by Sangeet Som, Sanjeev Baliyan, Dr Mahesh Sharma, Yogi Adityanath, ML Khattar, Sadhvi Prachi... The list is endless.

By this logic, Pakistan was as incidental to the 2001 terror attack on Parliament as was Nathuram Godse and his ideological parents in the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. The blame for both should just be put on the then governments.

Riots have happened under the Congress regime too. Even if we decide not to delve into the reasons, the context-providing events and agent provocateurs, isn't it important to question the activities and utterances of organisations and individuals who owe their ideological moorings to the RSS? Babri Masjid became the context for several communal carnages and terror attacks in India.

The anti-Sikh riots in 1984 are often cited by the BJP as a political argument against the Gujarat riots in 2002 and all riots before and after that. The 1984 riots were an aberration. There is no history of Hindu-Sikh rivalry as the basis of Congress' politics. However, in the case of the BJP, one can't make the same claim with confidence. The BJP is the political vehicle of the RSS, whose underlying ideology is aggressive religious/cultural nationalism. The recent utterances of MPs and ministers cannot be disconnected from the actions of their foot soldiers. If the leader distorts facts to use "Pink Revolution" to get votes, if state governments ruled by his party make laws on beef consumption more stringent, if organisations under the RSS umbrella start a campaign translating beef politics into anti-minority politics and if leader after leader defends the act, who should be blamed for the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, Mr Jaitley?

There is one point on which I agree with Mr Jaitley. The Left has lost its significance and the Congress is facing a challenging situation.

But this country does not wait for its political parties to voice their angst, it knows how and when to speak. India speaks through elections, protests and festivals. It speaks through silence too. Writers and intellectuals returning awards is just the beginning.


Pawan Khera Pawan Khera @pawankhera

Political Analyst working with the Indian National Congress

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