Power without legitimacy

Published : Mar 30, 2002 00:00 IST

The Vajpayee government makes a mockery of democracy as it clings to power without legitimacy and appeases Hindutva fascism each passing day.

THE events of the past three weeks have delivered a massive blow to Indian democracy and proved extraordinarily retrogressive for society. Institution after vital institution of the state has been corroded under the Hindutva onslaught of bestiality, violence and coercive politics. The government of the day has been reduced to pleading and begging with self-appointed sadhus, mahants and practitioners of gory voodoo rituals.

Take the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's plans to hold a so-called purnahuti yajna on June 2, and to carry the ashes of the victims of the Godhra massacre to 750 different places. The asthi yatra had to be abandoned under pressure from the BJP's "secular" allies in the National Democratic Alliance. But, contrary to what was claimed, it was elaborately prepared as a super-cynical attempt to exploit the gruesome killing of February 27. As Gujarat VHP joint secretary Jaideep Patel puts it, the processions "will be a fitting tribute" to the activists killed "in the cause of building the temple at Ayodhya".

The intention behind such occult rituals is to spread the Sangh's venomous ideology and its dangerous brand of nationalism based on the notion of the Hindus' victimhood in "their own land". They are reminiscent of the VHP's first response to the May 1998 Pokhran nuclear blasts. The knee-jerk reaction of its office-bearers was to announce that India had finally "arrived" on the world stage as a Great Hindu Power, therefore the Constitution must be rewritten to declare India a Hindu state.

The VHP announced a breathlessly bizarre plan to build a temple at Pokhran to a new goddess (Atomic shakti) and take radioactive sand from the blast site in yatras all over the country. This was an exercise in perversely mixing politics, myth and occult rites bordering on black magic - to promote a bellicose, aggressive, exclusivist notion of nationhood and nationalism, with the Bomb as the ultimate, perfect, expression of Hindu Power.

It is noteworthy that in 1998 the Bharatiya Janata Party did not see it fit to denounce this horrible show of politicised obscurantism. Nor did any of our nuclear hawks, including those professing some version of secularism. They were comfortable with this blend of religion and medieval superstition - so long as it sub-served the "greater cause" of nuclear nationalism.

Similarly, BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra flatly refused to criticise the VHP's asthi yatra and said it is only "normal" that ashes should be taken for immersion in rivers (The Hindu, March 22). However, true to type, the VHP now (March 22) denies it ever had such a plan!

Manufactured VHP-style rituals such as these are calculated to bestow the aura of religious tradition and shastras on patently manipulative sectarian agendas. That too has been the function of all the yajnas, pujas and sacrifices that VHP leaders such as Ramchandra Das Paramhans have been performing in Ayodhya for the past three months, culminating in the shila daan of March 15. The authenticity of this rite has been challenged by many mahants and sadhus in Ayodhya itself, who accuse the so-called Paramhans of being a self-seeking politician. In reply, Paramhans cites an amazing reason. He says he had a dream in which Lord Ram appeared and asked him to "donate" a duly consecrated shila to the government which had been appointed custodian of the Ayodhya land; hence the shila daan!

It is a terrible testimony to the debasement of our political culture and public discourse that the Vajpayee government repeatedly genuflects before these sants and sadhus' weird dreams and arcane fancies. It is worse that it stoops to despatching an official of the Cabinet Secretariat, Shatrughan Singh, to receive the shila, and he indulges in public display of his private religious faith, which is utterly impermissible for a civil servant.

No wonder that Paramhans has declared Atal Behari Vajpayee a "hidden supporter" of the temple movement. He likens him to a pativrata, so reverential towards her husband that she dare not utter his name, although "she loves him more" than the ordinary wife. "Similarly, [Vajpayee] may not take the name of Ram Janmabhoomi, but he knows that he is in power because of it and supports it..."

There could be no clearer proof of what the March 15 ceremony really meant for the protagonists of the temple campaign: appeasement of Hindutva and a shameful act of sacrilege against the Constitution. Through it, the government effectively legitimised the inauguration of temple construction. The shila is not just a carved pillar of stone. It is a component of what the VHP has decided will become a temple - no matter what the law says.

Even to get this dishonourable "compromise", Vajpayee had to beg hardliners in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to intercede on his behalf, thus yielding ground to them and accepting their ultimate moral-political authority over the BJP. That retreat was bad enough. Worse, Vajpayee also implicated other civil servants, including Navneet Sehgal, former Faizabad District Magistrate, and Harbhajan Singh, former Superintendent of Police. These men became accomplices of the BJP's parochial Ayodhya agenda. They blatantly violated their constitutional obligation not to side with any religious community.

Even more objectionable was the conduct of Attorney-General Soli J. Sorabjee, who, to his abiding disgrace, pleaded the VHP's case in court. He so "creatively" interpreted the Supreme Court's 1994 judgment that a violation of the mandated Ayodhya status quo would be effected through a "limited" shila pujan with 50 to 70 sants, lasting a good three hours. This is precisely the kind of "compromise" that the VHP has long craved. What aggravates Sorabjee's culpability is his astounding claim that he appeared in the Ayodhya case in his personal, not official, capacity!

Now, the Attorney-General's is a very special, exceptional, office in the Westminster system, which India has adopted. The A.G. is the government's highest law officer and legal representative, who can appear in any court in India. He is also its chief legal adviser, whose opinion is sought by the courts, and by Parliament too. The A.G's mandate is to perform comprehensive "duties of a legal character, as may from time to time be referred or assigned..." His remuneration is fixed directly by the President, without reference to government pay-scales. The A.G. is the only officer of the government who has a right to participate in the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament.

On March 13, Sorabjee was asked by the Court to outline the government's stand, not his personal position, on the 1994 judgment. But the position he detailed was identical to a number of key Ministers', and the VHP's too! Sorabjee has a blemished record. He was appointed A.G. in 1996 by the United Front. Following a well-established convention, he should have resigned in 1998 when that government fell. Instead, he asked the National Democratic Alliance to let him continue. That was bad enough. But his self-serving March 13 argument was downright disingenuous and a disservice to his office.

THE Vajpayee government has thus itself instigated the politicisation of the civil service and important constitutional offices. It has lost its moral legitimacy and its right to govern. It is inflicting grievous damage upon democratic institutions. Each additional day it stays in office, it adds to the damage. Rabidly communal groups like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal flourish largely because it supports, shields, encourages and instigates them through the BJP. Every time it is asked to defend all Indian citizens, it fails - abysmally.

The VHP-Bajrang Dal characters would not have had the audacity to vandalise the Orissa Assembly had Vajpayee not sent out strong communal signals regarding Ayodhya and Gujarat, including his refusal to sack Narendra 'Milosevic' Modi. Nor would the RSS have passed a nasty resolution in Bangalore telling Muslims that their "real safety" depends on the "goodwill" of the Hindu majority.

In essence, this threat conforms to the idea advanced by Golwalkar way back in 1939: "Non-Hindu people in Hindustan must adopt the Hindu culture and language... learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion... [they] must entertain no idea but glorification of the Hindu race and culture... they... may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen rights" (We or Our Nationhood Defined).

The sentiment underlying the latest resolution is typical of fascist and extreme Right-wing racist thinking. The text justifies the post-Godhra pogrom of Muslims as "natural and spontaneous" a repetition of the revolting "action-reaction" statements from Modi & Co, made to rationalise their complicity in the Gujarat pogrom.

Here lies an important difference. Not a single Muslim organisation, political, social or "cultural" as the RSS deceptively describes itself, has rationalised the Godhra killings - not even as a "spontaneous" reaction to pre-February 27 Ayodhya events and the kar sevaks' obnoxious conduct in the preceding days. Indeed, many Muslims have gone out of their way to condemn Godhra (although many reports suggest that it might have had a more spontaneous, than organised, character).

The only Muslim organisations in India that have recently and openly rationalised the killing of innocent civilians - of whatever religion - are rabidly anti-democratic jehadi groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen, which have been proscribed and are widely recognised as terrorist organisations.

Surely, following the same logic, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal must be recognised at least as rationalisers and abettors of terrorism targeted at non-combatant civilians. The law of the land, including the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, must be applied against them. They must be banned.

However, such is the distortion of the meanings of words, and the dimness of the dominant ethical perspective, in India's elite discourse that a balanced, discriminating moral judgment is rarely applied to these groups, leave alone the law. It is only rarely that their role in abetting hate-crimes, comparable in effect to large-scale terrorism, is recognised.

In part, this is because of the Hindu communalists' specious equation of "Our" (Hindus') militancy with "nationalism", and "Theirs" with terrorism, although both reject democratic definitions of nationhood and justify violence against innocent civilians who are in no way responsible for the injustice they seek to avenge.

In part, however, it is also because many people have unconsciously bought the extremely loaded, one-sided concepts underlying United States President George W. Bush's post-September 11 notion of "terrorism". Besides obliterating vital distinctions, for example those between terrorists and their sympathisers/harbourers, this notion illegitimately locks terrorism into just one category - sub-state or militant-group terrorism, especially with a non-Western and Islamic bent.

More important, it seeks to evoke moral disgust at indiscriminate violence by militant groups against non-combatants in, say, suicide-bombing attacks, or assaults on prominent targets such as the Twin Towers. But it suppresses that disgust, indeed any critical moral judgment, in respect of violence in such varied situations as unjust wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing, pogroms of religious minorities and communal riots - many typically carried out by governments.

The Bush doctrine is based on macho, statist, selective and hypocritical ideas. It is fundamentally unbalanced in reducing all security issues facing the world to terrorism alone, and then in dealing with that threat by means of overwhelming military force alone.

The Vajpayee government's abject capitulation to the Bush doctrine has coloured the texture of our political debate. The influence of the doctrine is all the greater thanks to our elite's growing pro-Americanism. This makes for a unique confluence between Hindutva and servility towards the U.S. It also underscores the need for a broader, universal - as distinct from self-serving, context-specific - definition of violent or sectarian politics which constitutes a threat to democracy.

In India, that threat has never been greater than it is now, under the Vajpayee government. That government must be held down to its constitutional obligations - or sent packing before it plunges the country deeper into medieval obscurantism, sectarian violence, lawlessness and a rising spiral of insecurity.

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