When a lynch mob pays its tributes
In Kalam and Memon, two theatres of death serve as tactile allegories for our nation.
- Total Shares
India is now looking forward to two morally-conflicting events tomorrow: the hanging of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict, Yakub Memon, on his 54th birthday; and the funeral of Missile Man-cum-People's President APJ Abdul Kalam a few hours later with state honours and unprecedented adulation rarely witnessed for a national leader.
The two theatres of death perhaps also serve as tactile allegories for a nation, where a distinct discourse buoyed by the rise of a certain political force into power, has gained enormous ground. In the trajectories that Kalam and Memon - both Indian Muslims - travelled and in their deaths, the chequered career of Indian secularism can easily be decoded.
It is difficult to stop many Indians, already gripped by a sense of siege under a relentless Hindutva onslaught, from questioning both: the state honour to Kalam and the state killing of Memon.
Missile scientist Kalam, handpicked by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government as the First Citizen of the country, was an ideal choice for a nationalist dispensation aggressively pursuing a military agenda. That he was also a Tamil Muslim who came across as being in denial of his religiosity by displaying what his right-wing lovers called an "Indian" lifestyle helped the matters for the BJP.
Kalam was chosen as India's president in July 2002, barely a few months after the Gujarat pogrom. The fire of hatred in the state then ruled by the current prime minister was still burning, the various relief camps still stood as massive eyesores in an otherwise prosperous Gujarat, the victims still knocking at the doors of the courts of law in Gujarat and outside.
Gujarat had severely dented Vajpayee's image too after he failed to act against the then chief minister Narendra Modi and then proceeded to justify the violence in an infamous speech at Goa few months after the pogrom. He needed to resurrect himself. Kalam proved handy. And he, like the classic "black sidekick" in Hollywood flicks, played his part well for the next two years that Vajpayee remained in power.
The rest, as they say, is history with the man going on to become a rockstar of sorts with his lectures, books and motivational quotes, especially targeted at youngsters and mostly displaying a naive absence of the many caste and class conflicts that they faced.
Be that as it may be, Kalam's spectacular rise from Rameswaram to Raisina still became an example of an inclusive Indian ethos as is evident from the mourning over his death on social and mainstream media.
And that is where Yakub Memon's exclusivity becomes equally poignant. Exclusivity that allows the state to differentiate between murders and mass killings. Exclusivity that feeds into a national imagination of the self and the other.
Opposition to death sentence in today's India has become a liberal project. (And the liberals are always suspect for their anti-India designs.)
Worse, state killing is always motivated by details which have nothing to do with the case under which a convict is hanged. Each killing is a message, each case too small a detail to bother with.
Which is why the lynch mob that can't wait to hang Memon in Nagpur tomorrow is not willing to account for the violence and injustice that produced him in the first place. The amplified din mutes inevitable questions that Muslims (and the liberals) can't help ask: "What about the Mumbai riots of 1992-93?"
"Has the Srikrishna Commission report been implemented?"
"Did the state try Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena for over 900 deaths in Mumbai?"
"Try?" they mock. "We gave the guy a farewell with full state honours."
"I see. The same salutes that Kalam gets tomorrow?"