Pseudo-Secularism

Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Who is a secularist?

10 Jan 2008, 0014 hrs IST,Mahesh Jethmalani

Modi's stunning success in the recent elections has left the entire secular establishment — read politicians, the media and activists — distraught. While a magnanimous minority of Modi's detractors attributes his success to his charismatic leadership and the success of the bijli, sadak, paani programme, the majority believes that it is the result of acute communal polarisation by Modi within the state. The unpalatable truth is that it is the secular establishment, by its ineffectual handling of the communal issue, which has polarised the Gujarat polity. Worse, in adopting the cause of the Islamic terrorist as a part of the secular faith, it has confused the cause of the deserving Muslim with the undeserving one. This has widened the religious chasm in Gujarat. The repercussions are likely to be felt in the rest of India as well.

It is evident from the Gujarat election that it is the secularists who tend to communally polarise the polity. Evidence of this exists outside Gujarat as well. The Sri Krishna Commission report on the Mumbai communal riots of December 1992 and January 1993 has been gathering dust since its publication in February 1998, despite a “secular” government at the helm of affairs in Maharashtra since 1999. Only after the much-awaited judgment in the trial of those responsible for the Mumbai bomb blasts of March 1993 did the advocates of secularism clamour for its implementation. Special courts have now been belatedly established by Vilasrao Deshmukh to try the riot offenders.

The demand for justice for the riot-affected as also the state response to it have been based on the principle of equality of justice for Hindus and Muslims alike, the implicit suggestion being that if Muslim terrorists can be convicted then Hindu rioters must also be tried and punished. The obvious disconnect between terrorism and riots is lost in the process. It is their stand on terrorism that destroys utterly the credibility of so-called secular parties. Consider for example the new poster boys of the secular camp: Sanjay Dutt, Afzal Guru and Sohrabuddin.

Instead of seeking justice for the victims of the 1993 blasts, the entire focus during the trial was on Sanjay Dutt. Hardly had the judgment been passed when an orchestrated campaign commenced to rescue him. The merits of the case against Sanjay Dutt will undoubtedly be discussed in a more appropriate forum but what is indisputable is that long before and just prior to the blasts he was intimately connected with underworld elements.

In the case of Afzal Guru the rationale for seeking the commutation of his death sentence is singularly misconceived given the gravity of the crime in which he was involved. His mercy petition before the presi-dent complains of denial of procedural justice in the first instance and for that reason alone is abysmally weak. Others claim he became a terrorist because of the atrocities he was subjected to by the Special Task Force in Kashmir. Even if this were true it does not constitute a justification for the taking of innocent lives, just like secularists rightly remind Hindu fundamentalists that the train-burning incident in Godhra does not validate the reprisals that followed.

Sohrabuddin was a habitual criminal against whom cases were registered in four states. He was arrested on several occasions but miraculously escaped conviction. This is not to suggest that his antecedents justified his elimination in a fake encounter by the police but was Sohrabuddin's case singled out and highlighted by the media merely because he was a Muslim killed in Modi-ruled Gujarat?

Gujarat 2007 has exposed the secular establishment. Secularism in India no longer means justice for the poor and oppressed minority. On recent evidence it has become a convenient shibboleth to promote the interests of a sinister mafia. It is time for secularists to reflect and take stock. The alternative is to increasingly sound like apologists for foreign-inspired terrorists and subversives of every hue. The writer is a senior advocate.

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