Current Affairs

The Parallel Streams of Anger

Dr Manmohan Singh said, on his return from France, that incidents in Orissa had shamed India before the world. That is important, but far less important than the fact that the violence in Orissa has shamed Indians in India. I measure what Indians do not by the standards of France, but by the values of modern India, which strengthened the spirit of our freedom movement against western colonialism and were enshrined in that noble document called the Constitution of India. The Bajrang Dal has shamed India before Indians.

Nicolas Sarkozy lives by French values, which is perfectly reasonable, for he is a Frenchman. But I am a little underwhelmed by the selective secularism of France, which permits schoolchildren to wear a small cross but will not allow a Sikh child to wear a turban or a Muslim to wear a hijab. One can’t complain: if those are the values of the French, they are entitled to them. If Mr Sarkozy wants to hand out medals to Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen [now given safe custody in India by Dr Manmohan Singh] that is his privilege. No one has accused Ms Nasreen of being a claimant to the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Mr Sarkozy is entitled to the nuances of his critical faculties. Dr Singh should perhaps be a bit wary of discussing domestic problems on foreign soil. I presume he would not mind, now, if the Saudis raised the killing of Jamia Millia students in Batla House by the Delhi police, or indeed communal riots in which Muslims are victims. Or does he have a separate standard for Saudis and the Organization of Islamic States — the French can complain, but not them? The French could not care less about the plight of Indian Muslims, but Saudis or the OIC might care. France does not even pretend to hide its bias against Muslims: it objects to Turkey’s inclusion within the European Union because Turkey is a Muslim nation. [It must be noted that British policy is quite the opposite; it supports Turkey’s membership.] I imagine that Dr Singh forgot to raise the small matter of French involvement in African genocide. Rwanda has just published the findings of an enquiry which claims that France armed, trained and helped Hutu militias that killed 800,000 Tutsis, and those Hutus who gave shelter to Tutsis, in just 100 days in 1994.

The Bajrang Dal’s violence in Orissa shames me because it represents the destruction of the idea of India as shared space for all faiths, with each Indian guaranteed equal rights. This too is a form of terrorism. It has been pointed out that some of the conversion literature distributed by missionaries — for instance, a booklet titled ‘Satya Darshini’, where remarks have been made about Urvashi, Vashistha and Lord Krishna — is offensive. If that is so, there is a democratic way of addressing such issues. Who gave any fundamentalist the right to rape and kill? Governments that have tolerated this will suffer not only the shame of present censure but also the whiplash of public anger in the next elections.

There is a sullen mood across India, a sense of lowering clouds before a furious storm breaks. Every dimension of anger seems to be clamoring for expression. Secessionists in Kashmir taunt Indians by flaunting the Pakistani flag while the UPA government watches, impotent. There is a growing anger among many Hindus against such secessionist provocation, as well as against terrorists like those of the Indian Mujahideen who claim to act in the name of Islam: this effortlessly morphs into hostility against all Muslims. There is the rage of the Bajrang Dals who convert a perceived threat from conversions into irresponsible violence and worse. There is deep frustration among Indian Muslims who feel that they have been victimized for six decades and are being targeted on all sides now. They have faced the hostility of Hindutva; now they are dealing with betrayal by the Congress. The killing of Jamia students has crystallized this betrayal.

Political parties were meant to be guardians of public morality. That is too much to expect now. Their only purpose is to sip up votes from the parallel streams of anger, choosing whichever stream is compatible to their taste. To calm the nation’s anger would be injurious to their electoral interest.

Evasion and lies come easily to political leaders. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has always advertised his probity, has absolutely no qualms about using deception. It would be boring to repeat the many kinds of deception that have characterised the progress of the nuclear deal with George W. Bush but the latest instance is useful evidence. Dr Singh always, and publicly, claimed that he wanted to be able to complete the negotiating process, and would return to Parliament before placing the final signature on any agreement.

On 30 June Dr Singh told the media, “I have said it before, I will repeat it again, that you allow us to complete the process. Once the process is over, I will bring it before Parliament and abide by the House.” On 22 July he told Parliament, “All I had asked our Left colleagues was: please allow us to go through the negotiating process and I will come to Parliament before operationalising the nuclear agreement. This simple courtesy which is essential for orderly functioning of any Government worth the name, particularly with regard to the conduct of foreign policy, they were not willing to grant me.”

The Prime Minister has walked away from this commitment without a hint of remorse. If Parliament protests, the government will simply adjourn the House. The credibility of politicians is not the real issue. The credibility of institutions cannot long stand the strain of irresponsibility.

This is a moment when the nation needs courage and leadership. Indians have, instead, to live with cynicism and misleaders. The disease stretches across the political spectrum. The country is getting infected.

About the author

M J Akbar

M.J. Akbar, Chairman and Director of Publications, Covert magazine, is a leading Indian journalist and author. He is founder and former editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. After successfully launching and establishing a weekly news magazine, Sunday, and a daily newspaper, The Telegraph, in the '70s and '80s, he briefly interrupted his career in journalism to enter politics in November 1989 as an elected representative in Parliament. He returned to writing and editing in 1993. His last book 'Blood Brothers', in the words of Khuswant Singh, "could be a textbook on how to write, mix fact, fiction and history. It is beautifully written; it deserves to be in Category A1." Commercially speaking M.J. Akbar is that tangible asset without whom the balance sheet of Indian Journalism will never tally!

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