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Hindu Taliban Assaulting Freedom, Militarising Society

by Praful Bidwai, 8 February 2009

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One can only marvel-if that’s the word-at the breathtaking speed with which the sangh parivar has vitiated the social climate in state after state. Within months of taking power in Karnataka, it has unleashed savage repression and turned Mangalore into a Hindu Taliban bulwark, where women are attacked if they go to a bar, where Hindus must not mix with Muslims, and where there’s no media freedom and free interaction among young men and women. The Sri Rama Sene, led by Pramod Mutalik, has emerged as a menace. Karnataka has become the Gujarat of the South.
In Maharashtra, Abhinav Bharat and Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit have declared war on the Indian state and targeted mosques and innocent civilians with bombs. The state’s Anti-Terrorism Squad has issued a lengthy charge-sheet against this Hindutva terrorist outfit. New connections between "Sadhvi" Pragya Thakur, Bajrang Dal, the RSS, Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti are coming to light.

In Gujarat, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) has declared Minister of State for Women and Child Welfare Maya Kodnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel absconders in a case of instigating violence at Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam during the 2002 pogrom. Their role was established by eyewitnesses and corroborated by mobile telephone records from February 25 to March 4, 2002, collected by the police.

Jansangharsh Manch, a group representing the victims, analysed the records and produced location graphs to prove that Ms Kodnani and Mr Patel were physically present at the sites of crime. These were presented to the Nanavati Commission and the SIT. The SIT dragged its feet on this issue for two months and allowed the two to abscond.

The JSM says this "raises doubts" about the SIT’s seriousness in booking them. "In the Naroda Gam case, some other accused arrested by the SIT were let off by court on regular bail within 48 hours." Also missing in the SIT approach is a focus on conspiracy to carry out the pogrom. Ms Kodnani and Mr Patel have since been granted bail. This speaks volumes about the kind of justice that the victims can expect in Narendra Milosevic Modi’s Gujarat.

It’s in Karnataka that the Hindutva forces’ danse macabre has taken on an especially grotesque form since 1998, when the Surathkal communal riots occurred in coastal Kannada. According to human rights activists, a communal incident was reported every 6 months between 1998 and 2000, became a monthly occurrence between 2000 and 2004, and now happens virtually every week. Since May 2008, there have been "14 recorded incidents of violence" against Hindu girls for been seen with Muslim or Christian boys.

The most obnoxious recent incidents include coordinated attacks on churches last September, and the Sri Rama Sene’s raid on the Amnesia Lounge Bar in Mangalore on January 25, during which young women were dragged out and molested. Instead of apologising for these and booking the culprits, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa brazenly said there has been no "major law and order problem" and Home Minister VS Acharya criticised the public outrage as "hype" and "fuss when no deaths have occurred." Sene goons are now hounding human rights defenders such as Pattabhirama Somayaji, who spoke out against the Amnesia attack.
There isn’t the least doubt that the Karnataka government has been shielding the Sene, and in particular Mutalik, who is being investigated by the Maharashtra ATS for his links with Purohit in a plot to mobilise Hindutva groups to create a Hindu Rashtra by violent means while establishing an interim government-in-exile in Israel! In August 2007, when Mr Yediyurappa was Deputy Chief Minister in the JD(S)-led government, he dropped as many as 51 cases against sangh parivar activists, including Mutalik.

Amidst this explosion of intolerance, communal prejudice and hate acts, stand out the two features that the sangh parivar’s fanatical followers share with the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal agency areas. The two common agendas are: imposition of an extremist, male-supremacist, puritanical code of conduct with which to regiment society in the name of "authentic culture" and "indigenous tradition"; and second, to use violent means to capture state structures and establish an obscurantist, xenophobic, closed and intolerant social order.
This order bears different names in the two contexts. The parivar’s Hindu Rashtra is meant to recreate the "glory" and "honour" of ancient (read, Hindu) India and secure Hindu primacy or domination. The Taliban’s goal is the establishment of Nizam-e-Mustafa, where medieval barbarism is promoted in the name of Islamic "purity" and "authenticity".

Both agenda reject and are deeply suspicious of modernity, the Enlightenment traditions of reason and scepticism, and the idea of an open society which values freedom. For both, people are not citizens first-free beings with equal rights who have the liberty to do what they like so long as their actions don’t harm others. Rather, people are fixed by just one identity, that of religion, interpreted in an illiberal, sexist and bigoted manner.

There are intimate, multiple and structural connections between the Hindu Taliban and other members of the sangh parivar, from the Extreme-Right Bajrang Dal all the way to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the parliamentary face of Hindutva or "Cultural Nationalism". Their mutual relationship has a "revolving door" character. The BJP uses the VHP and Bajrang Dal/Sene whenever convenient. In turn, these organisations gain from their association with the BJP-politically, financially, and by getting a figleaf of legitimacy.

Thus, it’s no aberration that Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee defended Mr Modi’s pogrom, or Mr Advani sided with "Sadhvi" Thakur and recommended Ms Kodnani’s induction into Mr Modi’s Cabinet. Ultimately, they are all mutually linked via the RSS, and share the same project, that of Hindutva. This project has always been deeply suspicious of democracy and at best regards it as a means to power or an expedient tool.

It bears recalling that the RSS, which was deeply influenced by European fascism, opposed universal adult franchise until the 1950s. Its organ Organiser termed the first general election a "precipitate dose of democracy" and "a leap in the dark", and predicted that Jawaharlal Nehru would "live to confess the failure of universal adult franchise in India".
So it’s amusing to see the BJP parade itself as a great defender of, indeed a warrior for, democracy, as it’s trying to do on the Election Commission issue. It’s the only party to support Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami’s decision to recommend the removal of Commissioner Navin Chawla barely 3 months before the CEC retires. This has divided the EC just when it must show coherence and unity in view of the impending general election.
The BJP is defending the CEC in the calculation that this issue has the same importance as the Emergency and will give it political capital "against the Congress for 25 years". But its devious, opportunist, and substantively wrong-headed campaign is now coming a cropper.

There are two aspects to this: legal, and more vitally, moral-political. Legal opinion is divided over whether the CEC can recommend an Election Commissioner’s removal suo motu (on his own). The majority view says the CEC lacks such powers. But experts are unanimous that the President shouldn’t accept the CEC’s recommendation without examining its merits.
Ironically, Mr Gopalaswami bases his suo motu claim on former Attorney General Ashok Desai’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s Seshan case judgment, which holds that "the CEC cannot act on his own and must await [a] reference through proper channels to be able to act on a complaint or petition seeking the removal of an EC".

Equally ironically, 5 years ago, Mr Gopalaswami had urged a change in the procedure for removing Election Commissioners by amending Article 324(5) of the Constitution. This, it argued, "requires an amendment to provide the very same protection . in the matter of removing ECs from office as is available to the CEC"- namely, impeachment by Parliament.
The CEC doubtless enjoys administrative primacy in a multi-member Commission. But in all material decisions, its members have an equal vote. The CEC can be overruled by the other two members. In any case, the CEC must not act on "his whim and caprice", and become "an instrument of oppression" which would "destroy the independence of the ECs."
The overarching purpose of Article 324 is to insulate the EC from executive interference by protecting the Election Commissioners against arbitrary removal, and by fixing their terms. This objective cannot achieved by limiting special protection only to the CEC, while leaving the Election Commissioners defenceless against his adverse judgments.

This is not to ignore Mr Chawla’s past. After the Shah Commission’s indictment, he shouldn’t have been in public service. But the BJP didn’t object to his postings until 2005, including important ones under its own rule. It’s now raking up the issue to despicably self-serving ends.
We must reform the EC by creating a broad-based collegium, including the Leader of the Opposition and Lok Sabha Speaker, to appoint all Commissioners. But the BJP isn’t interested. It’s ploughing a viciously sectarian line.