Deconstructing Gandhi: Mohandas Gandhi as Teesta Setalvad

The Gujarat riots of 2002

A five member team headed by Justice Tewatia comprising media professionals, Supreme Court advocates and reputed academicians travelled to Gujarat in the wake of the Gujarat riots in 2002 and compiled their findings in a report. According to this report:

On the 22nd of February, this year, the Sabarmati express started from Faizabad 225 minutes late. On that fateful day, 2300 pilgrims were traveling by the train. Most of them were returning from Ayodhya after the PurnaAhutiyagna. Most of the Muslim passengers got down at Dahod railway station and the rest of them at Godhra and it appears that when the train was torched there were no Muslim passengers in the train except those who were to stop the train by pulling the chain as part of the conspiracy to burn the pilgrims alive.

At 7.47 Hrs the train started to move from Godhra station but stopped for a few moments as some passengers could not board the train. It finally left the station but came to a halt about 700 metres away from the station as someone had pulled the chain. The vacuum pipe between coaches S6 and S7 was cut thereby preventing any further movement of the train. Miscreants threw stones and bricks at the train. As soon as the train left the Godhra station, the stoning intensified after the train stopped about 700 metres away at a place called Falia.

The passengers of the coaches S5, S6 and S7 particularly were the main targets. The passengers reportedly shut the doors and windows to protect themselves. Burning missiles and acid bulbs were thrown at and into the coaches and one such missile landed in coach S7. The fire spread but was controlled by the passengers. The attack continued and more burning missiles were thrown into coach S6. Soon S6 caught fire and within minutes it was in flames. Passengers who managed to get out of the burning compartment were attacked with sharp weapons. Some of them got out through the windows and took shelter below the coach.

After some time, between 20 and 40 minutes, fire engines arrived at the scene and took about half an hour to extinguish the fire. Inside the coach 58 charred bodies were found. They included 26 women and 12 children. Those who had seen the charred bodies, shiver even weeks after the incident while recalling the gory scene. Even a cursory look at the photograph of the charred bodies is a chilling experience. Forty-three injured persons were rushed to the civil hospital at Godhra with different degrees of burns. The train left Godhra at about 12.30 Hrs minus coach S6. Fifty-eight dead and 43 injured.

Fifty-eight Hindu pilgrims including 26 women and 12 children were charred beyond recognition in the fire set off by Islamic terrorists. For Hindus it matters little if the Muslim terrorists were Indian or Pakistani. Gujarat’s Hindus reacted with fury and in the first three days after the terror attack, Hindus went on a rampage and Gujarat once again was in the grip of communal riots.

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There have been several communal riots in Gujarat prior to 2002, big and small. The riots of 1946, 1969, 1985, 1992, 1995 and 2002 were the major riots. The 1969 riots as those in 1946 were triggered by Islamic terror attacks on the day of the rathyatra of Bhagwan Jagannath.

In 2002, Gujarat Chief Minister asked the central government to send in the army to quell the riots and the army began its work by 11AM on 1 March – in less than 72 hours. During all prior riots in Gujarat, the state was ruled by the Congress party and the world then did not treat Gujarat or its Chief Ministers as the world’s most hated political untouchables.

But Gujarat of 2002 and RSS-pracharak-turned-Chief Minister Narendra Modi became the White Christian world’s new anti-Christ. Hindu nationalism, for America and Europe was the new anti-Christ.

All the world including Hindu political mercenaries in India and Church-supported and funded NGO industry collectively turned against Modi not because the Gujarat riots of 2002 were any worse than previous riots in the state, but this time when Hindus reacted with fury, the state was ruled by the BJP and the coalition government in Delhi was led by the BJP and the BJP was perceived as a Hindu political party.

Gandhi and communal riots

The same argument was thrown by Gandhi at the Bihar government in 1946. How Gandhi reacted to Morarji Desai’s handling of the Ahmedabad riots in July 1946 and to the Bihar riots that started in August 1947 and continued unabated till March 1948, is the key to understanding why the three Yadavs, the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister LK Advani and Hindu political mercenaries in the Congress blame Narendra Modi for the riots.

Morarji Desai the then Minister for Revenue and Home in the Government of Bombay, was forced to call in the army and the police to quell the riots. Gandhi reacted sharply to Morarji Desai summoning the army into Ahmedabad and for using the police to subdue the rioters. Launching a furious diatribe against Morarji Desai who went to meet Gandhi in Pune before going to Ahmedabad, Gandhi asked Desai to withdraw the military. Further, in his speech at the prayer meeting the same day, in his typical manner of asking everyone else to die but not choosing to die himself, Gandhi told the people gathered at the meeting that Morarji Desai “must go to meet the flames under the sole protection of God, not that of the police and the military. If need be he must perish in the flames in the attempt to quell them as the late Mr. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi had done”. (CWMG Vol. 91 pp 228-29)

In the course of the prayer meeting Gandhi also observed,

If you find it risky to withdraw the military immediately let them do policing. They may not carry rifles and if they carry bayonets these should be used sparingly. They have been trained to act like monkeys, under your administration they should cease to be monkeys and become human beings.

There are ways even of fighting. If we must fight, why should we seek the help of the police and the military? The government too should clearly say that the military, whilst it is in India will only be used for the work of sanitation, for cultivating unused land and the like.

Morarji Desai was damned because he called the military. Modi was damned because he did not call the army on time, as alleged (falsely) by his detractors. But one individual mustered the courage to confront Gandhi frontally on Gandhi’s prescription to Morarji Desai for dealing with the Ahmedabad riots.

Your guidance and example can inspire many like me with courage and self-confidence. Once you have shown the way, the local workers will be able to follow it whenever occasion demands it. I feel that unless you set an example in action, your writings and utterances will not be of any use to the ordinary people and even Congressmen, in organizing non-violent protection of society.

Gandhi: I like the suggestion mentioned above. The correspondent has rightly said that under these circumstances, I should act myself whether others join me or not. It will be disgraceful on my part to sit at home and tell others to go and lay down their lives. Such a thing cannot be an indication of non-violence. I have never had the chance to test my non-violence in the face of communal riots. It might be argued that it was my cowardice which prevented me from seeking such a chance. (Panchgani July 25, 1946, CWMG Vol. 91, pp 348-49)

But Gandhi did not go to Ahmedabad in July 1946 and he did not go to Bengal when the Muslim League let loose a reign of terror against the Hindus in response to Jinnah’s call for Direct Action.

Just as he fobbed off the correspondent in Ahmedabad who asked Gandhi why he did not set an example in action, Gandhi fobbed off a pointed invitation to go to Bengal and undertake a fast unto death to quell the riots, with the excuse that his inner voice had not issued the command yet. The Mahatma’s inner voice spoke to him only in the last week of October and Gandhi went to Bengal three months after the riots began in August—thatis, afterthree months of rape, plunder, loot, force-feeding beef to Hindus and religious conversion at the point of the sword.

In Bengal, Gandhi was forced to admit that his ahimsa was not working and despite his prolonged stay in Bengal lasting four months between October 1946 to the beginning of March 1948, and despite walking from village to village with his tales of non-violence, Gandhi could not douse the fires of communal violence. Gandhi therefore turned his attention to Bihar.

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Gandhi in Bihar

Hindus of Bihar reacted spontaneously and violently to the Great Calcutta killings when on a single day over 5000 Hindus were killed, among whom were hundreds of Biharis who had migrated to Calcutta in search of work. The rage of Bihar’s Hindus exploded with unforeseen fury and soon Bihar too was raging in the fire of communal violence. Only in Bihar the Hindus were doing to Muslims what the Muslims had done to the Hindus in Bengal and earlier in Gujarat.

The Muslim League government in Bengal was furious with Gandhi for walking from one riot-torn village to another while Bihar under Congress rule was extracting revenge for events in Calcutta and other cities and villages of Bengal. The Muslim League wanted Gandhi out of Bengal.

Your letter is hysterical. I would like you to tell me how I can serve the Muslims better by going to Bihar. Whilst I do not endorse your remark that the atrocities committed by the Hindus in Bihar have no parallel in history, I am free to admit that they were in magnitude much greater than in Noakhali. I would urge you as President of the Monghyr District Muslim League to confine yourself to proven facts which, I am sorry to say, you have not done. (Letter to President Monghyr District Muslim League, January 25, 1947, CWMG Vol. 93, page 321)

Congress stalwarts of the time were against Gandhi fishing in the troubled waters of a communally charged Bengal. They feared Gandhi’s presence in Bengal could provoke the Muslim League government to unleash more violence against the Hindus. They communicated their resentment to GD Birla hoping Birla could make Gandhi see reason. But Gandhi was adamant about proving the success of his non-violence and while he conceded that what he was doing in Bengal (including his sinful experiments in brahmacharya) was not in the name of the Congress, and that he will not associate the Congress in his work, he would not leave Bengal because “he was determined to emerge successful from this ordeal”.

Gandhi assured the Muslim League that he could control the Congress government in Bihar sitting in Bengal and that he did not have to go to Bihar to end the riots. Gandhi unleashed his tried and tested weapon of coercion against Bihar:

And since I claim to have better appreciation than you seem to have shown of what Bihari Hindus should do, I cannot rest till I have done some measure of penance. Predominantly for reasons of health, I had put myself on the lowest diet possible soon after my reaching Calcutta. That diet now continues as a penance after the knowledge of the Bihar tragedy. The low diet will become a fast unto death, if the erring Biharis have not turned over a new leaf. There is no danger of Bihar mistaking my act for anything other than pure penance as a matter of sacred duty. (To Bihar, Sodepur, November 6, 1946, CWMG Vol. 92, page 452)

Proving Gandhi to be terribly wrong about his self-proclaimed control over the Bihar government and as if to prove that Bihar’s Hindus were not going to listen to any argument from any Congress leader to give up their revenge attacks, communal riots in Bihar continued unabated. Finally, in a move to placate Bengal’s Muslim League government, Gandhi asked Srikrishna Sinha, Prime Minister of Bihar to send him official reports from Bihar on the prevailing situation.

In 1947,Muslims constituted 14% of Bihar’s total population and that was no ‘very small minority” as Gandhi put it, and his fear that the retaliatory violence by Bihar Hindus against the Muslims of the province would “sour” the Muslims in the rest of India has been Indian polity’s intellectual refrain till today. In other words, to exert pressure on Hindus and stopping them by use of state force if necessary, from responding effectively to continuing Muslim violence and jihad against Hindus.

Two telegrams from Patna reprove me on my “threatened” fast. “Threatened” is the word used in one of the wires. My proposed fast is not meant to coerce anyone; it is meant to quicken the dead conscience into life. Those who act from fear harm themselves and the cause they profess to serve. Surely, it is as plain as A. B. C. that the action of the Biharis in injuring the very small minority of Muslims in Bihar must postpone the day of India’s independence and ultimately sour Muslims all over India unless Bihar repents her folly of senseless and cowardly violence. Rashtrapati Acharya Kripalani, whom every Bihari knows for his sterling services, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and now MaulanaAbulKalam Azad and Shri Jayaprakash Narayan are now in Bihar and expect to show fair Bihar that their terrible ill-treatment of the Muslims is communalism of the worst type and is calculated to defeat the growing nationalism of Bihar. I therefore warn everyone from abusing my contemplated fast which is in no way intended to deflect anyone from what he believes is the course of duty for him. (Statement to the press, Chaumuhani, November 9, 1946, The Hindu 11-11-1946, CWMG, Vol. 93, page 16)

Gandhi snubbed by Congress leaders

And there is a lesson here for Modi’s admirers and adversaries. In spite of the fact that almost all Congress leaders except Sardar Patel were camping in Bihar to deal with the riots – Rajendra Prasad, Nehru, GovindVallabh Pant and Rafiq Ahmed Kidwai, not one of them, not Srikrishna Sinha or Patel, not one of them sent any report to Gandhi and they refused to react to Gandhi’s suggestions and objections.

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Gandhi’s frustration at being ignored is obvious:

I wrote a letter to you but have not received a reply. Possibly it was lost. It does happen to some of my letters. I have received a copy of the Bihar Provincial Muslim League’s report. You too must have received a copy. I am therefore not sending it to you. It is a terrible thing if even half of what is stated were true. It even mentions that I should ask the Bihar Ministry for a full clarification of the massacre for which they were responsible. And if one has been already issued, I may be sent a copy. I should like to take you even further than that. I read in some newspaper that the Bihar Ministry does not propose to hold any inquiry. I was sorry to note it. I want the ministries of both the provinces to hold an impartial inquiry by a joint committee to probe the incidents in both the provinces. Even if Bengal does not co-operate, it is the Bihar Ministry’s duty to hold such an enquiry. It will be good if you can also let me know the true condition at present. What is the truth in the report that many Muslims have left Bihar and many are still leaving? There is also a complaint that representatives of the Muslim League are not even allowed to visit the Muslim refugee camps set up by the Bihar Government. I am sending a copy of this to RajendraBabu. (Letter to Srikrishna Sinha, Srirampur, December 21, 1946)

It is bad that the enquiry commission has not yet been appointed. I think that it should be appointed immediately. Many letters of complaint are coming in. Only the commission can answer these letters. (CWMG Vol. 93, page 270)

I was to get a note on Bihar. I have not received it, nor has a single well-informed person from Bihar come to me. It does not matter if someone cannot come but the note must come. What happened about the Commission? (Letter to Srikrishna Sinha, January 13, 1947, CWMG vol. 93, page 275)

It was some gentleman from Bihar who gave me the information. I did not note down his name. Is it not a fact that you, the Governor and the Viceroy are against the appointment of a Commission and that this is sufficient to stop the Chief Minister from appointing one? In spite of all this, I am strongly of opinion that if no commission is appointed, the League’s report will be accepted as true. I alone know what pressure is being put on me. (Letter to Vallabhbhai Patel, January 14, 1947, CWMG Vol. 93, pp 276-77)

To which accusation Sardar Patel replied not very politely:

Who told you I have a hand in the non-appointment of a Commission of Inquiry in Bihar? I do hold the opinion that there is no gain but only harm if the Commission is appointed. If in spite of it the Commission is appointed, how can I prevent it? The Bihar Governor is behind the non-appointment of the Commission. The Viceroy too does not want it. (CWMG Vol. 93, page 369)

In due course, the Prime Minister of the Bihar government, Srikrishna Sinha announced a one-man Inquiry Commission of Justice Reuben of the Patna High Court. The promised Commission of Inquiry was never constituted and on October 30, 1947, the Bihar cabinet dropped the idea altogether.

Narendra Modi like Sardar Patel in 1947 has thus far stood firm against the onslaught of pressure applied on him by his enemies inside and outside the country. Hindus have always dealt decisively with Islamic terrorism even when jihad had the support of state power as in the case of the Muslim League Government in Bengal.

Foreign and domestic political forces arraigned against Narendra Modi and the RSS do not want Hindu nationalism to rear its head. While they have no objection to Hindu political mercenaries who can be trusted to implement the politics of minority-ism, they will use every means to defeat any move by Hindu nationalists to capture state power.

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What the RSS has withstood since 1947 and what Narendra Modi has withstood since 2002 is but a foretaste of what lies in wait for both Modi and the RSS now that Narendra Modi’s BJP has won a spectacular victory in Elections 2014.

It is for Hindu nationalists to revive the political courage and intellectual brilliance of Tilak and Aurobindo and the clear thinking that illuminated Savarkar’s abiding conviction that this ancient civilization is the Hindu nation – the only bhumi for sanatana dharma and the dharmi.

(Concluded)