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Why communalism persists in 21st century India?


By Vishal Arora

(Sep 14, 2007, New Kerala)


How can we expect the evil of communalism to go away if the commission investigating one of India's worst communal crimes, the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, makes civil society wait for more than 14 years -- without much hue and cry. "The term of the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission of Inquiry has been extended by two months up to 31st October 2007." This is all a release by the Press Information Bureau said on Aug 31, without a word of explanation on why its term has been extended more than 40 times when it was mandated to submit its report within three months of its constitution, or justification as to why it has spent more than Rs.70 million from the exchequer. The Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission was set up by the then P.V. Narasimha Rao government 10 days after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh on Dec 6, 1992. It was tasked with inquiring into the incident and unravelling the facts that led to the demolition. The order setting up the commission stipulated that it complete the inquiry "as soon as possible but not later than three months".

It is common knowledge that the pulling down of the mosque not only incited communal violence in several parts of the country, in which hundreds of innocent people died but also led to an era of communal politics, as it became a "successful experiment" of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to polarise people along religious lines and thereby emerge as a mainstream party from a marginal party. In July 1992, five months before the demolition, L.K. Advani, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, reportedly told the house, "You must recognise the fact that from two seats in parliament in 1985, we have come to 117 seats in 1991. This has happened primarily because we took up this issue (Ayodhya)." The BJP adopted a resolution on Ayodhya on June 11, 1989, in its national executive meeting in Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, and Advani undertook a Rath Yatra (procession on a chariot) in September 1990 to "remind" Hindus that the 16th century mosque was built on the Ram Janmabhoomi (the birthplace of god Rama). The rally allegedly culminated in the demolition of the mosque.

Eight years later, on April 14, 2000, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj reportedly admitted that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was "purely political in nature and had nothing to do with religion". In other words, religious sentiments of Hindus, who form more than 80 percent of India's one billion-plus population, were misused while hurting religious feelings of the Muslims, for political gains. Since then, the BJP has been using the same tactic to win elections. The fact that the Commission has recorded statements of several senior BJP leaders, including Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, suggests why there is such a delay. However, delay in bringing perpetrators of communal crimes to justice is not unique to the Babri Masjid case; it is generic to communal incidents.

Take, for instance, the Bhagalpur "riots" in which over 1,000 Muslims were killed. It was in September 2006 - 17 years later - that the Bihar police decided to lodge what is called the "first" information report (FIR) against rioters who had killed nine members of a Muslim family in October 1989. Police had not even made a diary entry of the incident at that time. Similarly, victims of the Gujarat's anti-Muslim carnage of 2002 continue to cry for punishment of those responsible for the killing of more than 2,000 people, besides still awaiting proper relief and rehabilitation. To add insult to injury, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whose culpability is crystal clear according to various independent investigation reports but not yet legally proven, has not only managed to retain his seat till today but is also hopeful of ruling the "vibrant" state for another term after the assembly electionsdue in December.

Several other "riots", including the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984, the Mumbai violence of 1992-93 and incidents of anti-Christian attacks, have the same story - impunity of the perpetrators. If at all punishment comes, it is only to those who are used as mere manpower in carrying out communal crimes, while the political bigwigs who plan and organise violence backstage almost always manage to remain at large. And in a country where a large chunk of people remains unemployed and economically backward, the conspirers of communal harvests never lack hands to commit communal crimes - how many can you bring to book? A lack of will on the part of the government is also reflected in the delay in enacting the anti-communal violence law, which was promised by the ruling United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress, in 2004. Besides, the bill to this effect introduced in parliament seeks to give more powers to agents of the state governments, like district collectors, or the central government in case of a "large-scale" communal incident, instead of empowering the independent judiciary, which can hold ruling politicians and bureaucrats responsible for allowing communal violence. It is extremely unfortunate that on the one hand India dreams of becoming an economic superpower in the near future but on the other still grapples with a medieval problem like communalism, which should be unique to theocracies and economically backward nations - not a country like ours.



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