A recent article by The Economic Times’ resident editor, Mr Sriram Ramakrishnan, titled “Left-liberals in India completely unaware of despotic regimes“, came across as one of the most blatantly biased and factually incorrect opinion piece from an editor in recent times. You will hopefully excuse my choice of words. Mr Ramakrishnan does not leave me any choice other than reverting back with a strongly worded retort.
The first thing he does is label all the Sahitya Akademi award winners who chose to return their awards in protest as “left-liberals/leftists” or “pseudo-secularists”. The contempt with which he throws these labels at the protestors seems to imply that he considers “secularism” and “liberalism” as negative concepts and an affront to the nation. A second point he raises (which all other die-hard BJP/RSS supporters also raise like a parrot whenever the party is criticized for communal polarization) is the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in the late 80s and early 90s. Let me remind him that the exodus of Pandits from the valley too was a painful incident which people across the Left and Right of the spectrum opposed. In fact, barring the hardline Hurriyat at that time, even the common Kashmiri Muslim, who until the exodus, was a next door neighbor of the Pandits, too had tried to stop the Pandits from leaving. Unfortunately, circumstances in the valley at the time, along with Pakistani support for Kashmiri separatists who were gunning for the Pandits, left them with no choice but to leave the state. Did the Indian government fail in its duty to protect its citizens? Of course, it did. No one can deny culpability of our own government in handling the extremist violence in Kashmir. Also, let me remind you that it was not just Pandits who suffered. Even Muslims were killed in the ensuing phase of terrorism and continue to die even today. In the interim period, we have had a BJP led government twice at the centre (1998-2004 and the current Modi led dispensation since May 2014). We also have an alliance government in Kashmir comprising of BJP supporting a (hold your breath) pro-separatist PDP led government. What genuine efforts have been made by the BJP so far to ensure the return of Pandits to the valley, other than gaining political mileage from the issue? Wonder what he has to say about this volte-face by the BJP when it chose to support a known hardline CM – Mufti Sayeed, who in 1989 was responsible for the release of five militants in exchange for the release of his daughter. Whatever happened to “nationalism” and non-negotiable stance of the party on J&K ? Has the BJP taken any steps at all to bring back the Kashmiri Pandits to the valley? You may recollect the famous statement of Dr Shayama Prasad Mukherjee – “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge”. One wonders what he would have had to say about this tie-up with the PDP.
Another point he raised in his article is the “butchering” of hundreds in the Mumbai train bombings. He should be reminded that bombings do not result in selective “butchering” of victims. They rip apart everyone in the way (irrespective of religion, caste and class), which is what happened in the serial train blasts of Mumbai. The blasts killed innocents of different communities and religions. Mr Sriram, what makes you say these blasts were not opposed by the “left-liberals” and “pseudo-secularists” you wish to condemn? Which secular, progressive and right thinking citizen has opposed the verdict given by the courts against the blasts accused? If you wish to count some fringe extremist or hardline Muslim organizations that have opposed the verdict as a part of “us” (read “left-liberal”, “pseduo-secular” in your own words), then I have nothing much to say.
He also mentions in his article about the killings of members of the Hindu community. Yes, these things certainly happen and are equally vehemently opposed especially by the Left parties. What he conveniently chooses to not highlight here is that the killings of these Hindus generally pertains to the killings of the lower caste Hindus (Dalits, adivasis) by the so-called upper caste. Why is it that the RSS/BJP and its bandwagon of supporters chooses to remain largely silent over these caste-related killings? On the question of NGO-funding, he already seems to have made up his mind about the government’s “noble” intentions of bringing in transparency in the way NGO’s function. Therefore, there is no point in debating over it. In order to defend 2002 riots, as is the case with all BJP/RSS spokespersons and supporters, Mr Sriram too mentions 1984 riots. The misfortune of this country is that innocent citizens (whether in 1984 or 2002) have been killed time and again over politics. It is only the label (Congress in 1984, BJP in 2002) that has changed. The difference in both the cases is that while 1984 happened (unfortunately) in the backdrop of the then PM’s killing amidst a raging pro-Khalistan insurgency in Punjab, 2002 was part of a much larger experiment – Hindutva carried out due to the ruling government’s complicity and tacit support. Two wrongs do not make a right. Those guilty of 1984 riots need to be brought to justice. Period. Likewise, with 2002.
His charge regarding people blaming the majority community of having turned against the minority community after PM Modi took over, borders on deliberate misinformation. This is a classic case of deliberately misconstruing and misinterpreting statements and facts. No one has ever said that the “majority” community has turned against the minority. In fact people have said the exact reverse – a majoritarian government is allowing its support base to go on a rampage against the minorities while turning a blind eye to incidents in western UP, Karnataka, Maharashtra and other parts of the country. The PM is right when he states that the centre has no role in incidents such as the one that happened in Dadri and it is largely a failure of the state government. In fact a lot of the “so-called intellectuals and pseudo-secularists” he chooses to taunt have precisely been saying the same thing about Gujarat in 2002. Coming back to the current scenario, people have criticized the central government primarily over its lack of action against its own ministers, MPs and MLAs who have made the most derogatory statements and tried to inflame passions further. Remember what the central government Minister Dr Manish Sharma said – “You must also consider that there was also a 17-year-old daughter in that home. Kisi ne usey ungli nahin lagaayi,” after the Dadri incident as he indirectly condoned the attack. Mr Sriram conveniently chooses to not mention Sangeet Som and his statements or for that matter utterances of Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Prachi and others who time and again have vitiated the atmosphere.
Lastly, he has chosen to highlight the virtues of the current government which has been “tolerant” to all sorts of criticism and has not resorted to throwing in jail all those who have criticized it over various issues. We certainly are “grateful” to this government for its bigheartedness and supposed tolerance to divergent opinions and viewpoints. The last I remember, right to dissent and freedom of expression were guaranteed to us by the Indian constitution and not bestowed upon us by “tolerant” governments. Only 2 years ago, the current ruling party, then in opposition, was out on the streets lampooning the PM as well as the government over serious corruption charges as well as frivolous charges such as diminishing of the PM’s prestige. Did the UPA government throw all the protestors in jail? What is so unique about this government if it has been “tolerant” to criticism? Germany did not become a fascist state overnight. Hitler was in the political mainstream of German since the late 20s and by the mid 30s he had captured the entire state apparatus. By the mid 30s the Nazi’s had effectively taken control of all public institutions in Germany which then enabled them to impose their version of the most brutal form of dictatorship. What we are witnessing in India currently is nothing different. The RSS has publicly proclaimed its admiration for Nazi Germany and Hitler’s version of “nationalism”. Towards the end of the article he wonders over the “strange reason” for Hitler’s autobiography -Mein Kampf, continuing to have high sales. No prizes for guessing why !!