Teesta Setalvad

‘Democracy was hollowed out in the past five years’

Print edition : June 21, 2019

THE activist and secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) Teesta Setalvad has been relentlessly battling the State government in her search for justice for the victims of the Gujarat pogrom. She has suffered various forms of persecution because of her crusade. As someone who has closely observed Gujarat politics, she spoke to Frontline on the State and the move towards majoritarianism:

“Gujarat is where it all began in the late 1980s and took a sharp, dramatic and murderous turn from the early 2000s. The genocidal pogrom of 2002 was a culmination of this, after which the laboratory experiment—cocking a snook at the Indian Constitution and its inherent principles of equality before the law and non-discrimination—took a different form: silencing dissent, questioning the minority and the different world view, all aided by Indian corporate capital. Remember the whitewashing first began here and it would not have been possible without the tools of market, capital and technology. This is important to understand because of what it says about our rich: they largely approve of this shift or turn in Indian democracy into a majoritarian state, culturally and religiously.

“The mass electronic media helped in the whitewashing by simply not interrogating the ‘Gujarat model’. Remember the amoral politics of this process magnified multiple times after policies like demonetisation and an irrational imposition of GST [goods and services tax]. Industry and manufacturing suffered, the informal Indian economy was killed. Many of those affected by the Modi government’s policies were supporters of the regime, but they did not publicly criticise it. Fear? A bit. Acquiescence to the anti-minority hate? More likely.

“In the past five years, women like Maya Kodnani, a former Minister convicted in 2012 for conspiring with and abetting a murderous mob to turn on the minority constituents of Naroda Patiya, was acquitted by a High Court. Any outrage? None. Babu Bajrangi [who was convicted in the Naroda Patiya massacre case] gets bail and the State and Central governments ensure it. We [the CJP] are the only ones who oppose this.

“Within all this, the political opposition floundered in not convincingly making out a mass communication campaign based on rights. First-time voters today have no lived image of India’s first Prime Minister jumping off his official vehicle to stop communal violence. Yes, that was Nehru, who today is reviled and mocked at by a bunch of IT cell techies who have a sense of neither history nor politics.

“But what of those who do oppose the regime? The political opposition took the goodness of the Indian people for granted (I still believe that we are inherently secular), refused to acknowledge that lakhs of people are missing from the electoral rolls. It stopped sending creative messages on Indian democracy, history, syncretism. Worst of all, it fought separately, simply not realising that a splintered, fractured opposition sends out a message that it is opportunistic. The refusal of the Congress to be unequivocal about condemning not just the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 but the targeted communal violence in general made it worse.

“All this having been said, it was not the ‘magic’ of Modi-Shah that helped the BJP sweep the elections. It was an imbalanced election—money power was garnered by them. Without this, Amit Shah’s 24x7 organisational machine (all paid volunteers of this project) could not have worked. Indian democracy was successfully hollowed out in the past five years. This will continue and accelerate, giving further impetus to the hollowing out of Indian democracy.”

(As told to Anupama Katakam)

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