On the 1st of April, this year about 200 Lutyens’ celebrity writers published an open letter appealing to the people of India to “vote out hate politics”. Published on the Indian Cultural Forum, the letter says, “In the last few years, we have seen citizens being lynched or assaulted or discriminated against because of their community, caste, gender, or the region they come from”. These writers, of course, are masters at dissembling. So, to cover their open hatred for Modi and the BJP, they come up with a statement suggesting, “The first step, the one we can take soon, is to vote out hate politics. Vote out the division of our people; vote out inequality; vote against violence, intimidation and censorship. This is the only way we can vote for an India that renews the promises made by our Constitution”.
However, the articles published in News18, Scroll, Outlook etc, start with “After over 100 members of the film fraternity appealed to the people of India to oust the BJP from power, more than 200 writers have now come forward to urge the citizens to vote out “hate politics”. There is no doubt left in the minds of the readers as to who these writers mean when they appeal to “vote out hate politics”.
It is not at all surprising to see such letters being written ten days before the 2019 General Elections get underway across the nation. The fear of Narendra Modi returning to power with an even better majority than in 2014 is giving sleepless nights to most of these worthless scribblers who suddenly found themselves out of the limelight when Modi took control of the Central Government.
They were used to riding the gravy train with the Congress, with the 10 years of Manmohan Singh being especially productive in terms of free lunches – veritably a never-ending cocktail party – in celebrity drawing rooms. At various Lit fests, they were star-worshipped by 3rd rate journalists across all media; their publishers arranging book-reading events in 5-star hotels, starry-eyed Divas introducing the writers and their friendly conversationalists on the dais; an all-expenses-paid holiday in exotic places. All this, while huge kickbacks were arranged by middlemen like Christian Michel, from the negotiations of defence and other equipment.
All they had to do in return was to remain disdainfully aloof from asking any questions while journalists like Shekhar Gupta allegedly, subtly tipped public opinion in favour of the supplier abroad that was most amenable to provide the then powers-to-be with the best kickback terms. Never mind if the equipment was unsuitable or heavily expensive. What really mattered was how much the Family was getting from the deal. With Modi getting an unexpected majority in 2014, the party abruptly came to an end.
Most of these ‘100 members of the film fraternity’ are unknown to the layman, while some have said that their names have been included without their knowledge or permission. Similarly, among the 200 writers, usual suspects like Arundhati Roy, Nayantara Sehgal, Basharat Peer, Girish Karnad, and Romilla Thapar are well known for their hatred for Modi and loyalty to the Nehru family. These people had said similar things in 2013 also when Modi first became the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate.
Modi’s electrifying campaign and the magnetic connection with the common people frightened the daylights out of them. They were smart enough to foresee a very abrupt end to their dalliances in the corridors of power in New Delhi and many state capitals. Some, like U. R. Anatha Murthy, even threatened to leave the country if Modi became the Prime Minister. Others like Amitava Ghosh expressed views on somewhat similar lines. Anantha Murthy, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away, a few months after Narendra Modi was sworn in as PM. But what is most distressing is to see Amitav Ghosh again lending his name to a project aimed at not only destabilizing the country’s economy but also the social fabric that Modi has tried hard to knit together in his 5 years as PM. Ghosh is not an ordinary writer.
He is not a chronicler of history like Thapar, trying to peddle a particular political agenda. He is a sensitive novelist, an observer of the interplay of many lives on the world’s stage, and particularly that of India. That a sensitive writer could fall into the nefarious agenda of anarchists like Roy, or a blatantly communalist like Peer, is indeed a very sad moment. Ghosh, unlike Raghu Karnad, does not need validation. He has proved himself many times over, even though the Booker or the Nobel has been denied to him. The Government of India, headed by PM Modi, however, honoured him with the Jnanapith award in 2018. And rightly too! I have read every book written by Amitav Ghosh, the last one being “The Great Derangement” published in 2016, that is a searing indictment of politics, power, and cultures that have ignored, for mostly selfish reasons, the most vital element of life on earth – its climate.
Ghosh’s works of non-fiction are as engaging as his fiction. An early collection of essays is “The Imam and the Indian” that appeared in 2002. Ghosh, by then, was already an established writer. His first book, “The Circle of Reason” had been warmly received and readers like me were awaiting the publication of his subsequent works. One of the essays in this collection, “The Ghosts of Mrs Gandhi” was first published in The New Yorker on 17th July 1995. The essay was drawn from Ghosh’s personal experience with organized communal violence in the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, by her bodyguards, on 31st October 1984. Ghosh recounts his journey by bus with a friend that fateful day, from the University campus in Delhi to the friend’s house in Safdarjang Enclave. The mindless violence and the horror unleashed upon a hapless Sikh community, organized and led by thugs and goons belonging to the Congress Party, is vividly recorded by him.
Ghosh writes that the experience of those few days in 1984 inevitably influenced his future writing but it was not until 1995, eleven years after the event, that he could sufficiently detach himself from the immediacy of the violence to be able to write objectively about it. Instead, he began work on his second novel, “The Shadow Lines” a book that “led him backward in time to earlier memories of riots, ones witnessed in childhood. It became a book not about any one event but about the meaning of such events and their effects on the individuals who live through them.”
Ghosh writes glowingly about the small group of citizens who formed the Nagarik Ekta Manch, or Citizens’ Unity Front and immediately set to the task of providing relief to the injured and shelter to the homeless. The Front also conducted its own investigation of the riots and produced a slim pamphlet entitled “Who are the Guilty?” It is “a searing indictment of the politicians who encouraged the riots and the police who allowed the rioters to have their way.”While lamenting that no instigator of the riots had been charged till the day of his writing, Ghosh believed that the pressure on the government had not been relaxed and that the “nails hammered by that slim document dig just a little deeper.”
The nails that Ghosh writes about have all but rusted and the hammers have long been abandoned. Thirty-four years later, the situation today remains the same; quite a few of the known perpetrators of the violence continue to be at large, and it is the slim pamphlet that gathers dust and is being eaten by silverfish. The compulsions of vote-bank politics, first invented by the Congress and now perfected by the other so-called “secular” parties, have created an atmosphere where violence is only a moment away; where private armies of goons and thugs are maintained by politicians to be unleashed upon a hapless and largely unprotected civil population. Eric Hobsbawm’s observation that while only 5% of those who died in the first World War were civilians, the numbers increased to 66% in the Second, validates his argument that in the post-cold-war era the burden of conflict has shifted increasingly from armed forces to civilians.
The violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the conflagration in Godhra, and hundreds of such incidents, has continued to scar the landscape of our country. Mamata’s West Bengal and Kerala continue to witness these ghoulish dances of death, on almost every day. The victims in these two states invariably happen to be Hindus, who are being systematically targeted and made to vacate whole villages. The experiment of Kashmir where Pandits were terrorized into a mass exodus is being repeated in Bengal, Kerala, and in few districts of UP, Bihar, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. But unfortunately, political space is occupied by the same people who instigate the violence and who have a complicit media to deflect public opinion away from them. While most common people react to organized violence with repugnance and try to oppose it in whichever way they can, yet there is hardly any mention of it in public debate in print and visual media. Unless of course, the victim happened to be a member from a minority community, or a so-called Marxist-Maoist intellectual, most probably done in by his own people. The entire eco-system comes out screaming its vilest abuses at Modi, RSS, and the BJP, having already determined, without investigation, that they were the ones who had committed the crime. Most of the times the news anchors and columnists are busy in self-promotion, pushing their own or their masters’ agendas.
In a cynical atmosphere that prevailed then due to the complete failure of the Congress government on all fronts, and the abysmal depths of moral depravity to which Manmohan Singh had allowed the nation to fall, the voices of eminent writers like U. R. Anantha Murthy and Amitav Ghosh should have been the soothing balm needed by raw and open wounds. Instead, these two further added to the cynicism by their sweeping and unsubstantiated statements against the nomination of Narendra Modi as the political leader of the BJP. One was not dismayed when known anarchists like Arundhati Roy and Amartya Sen said similar things. We did not expect anything else from them. Nor did we expect objective reporting from the columnists of The Hindu, Indian Express, The Telegraph, or from Saba Naqvi, a member of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council (NAC). All of them had a personal agenda that we could easily guess at. In his essay, Ghosh had written that “writers do not join crowds – Naipaul and so many others teach us that”. But having stayed away for so long, it came as a surprise when Ghosh chose to join crowds and added to the cacophony of the narrative of the anarchists. Anantha Murthy’s “Samskara” and Ghosh’s “The Shadow Lines” are uncompromising critiques of prejudice based on religion, caste and colour. That these two should themselves have fallen prey to a prejudicial orchestra conducted by the chief perpetrators of violence in India and made statements of note without having equipped themselves with the details of the violence that occurred in Gujarat after the burning of the train in Godhra, came as a major disappointment to the legion of their admirers.
In 2004, just before the general elections that brought UPA to power, Narendra Modi had given a detailed interview to Shekhar Gupta, the editor of The Indian Express that was televised on NDTV in its program, “Walk the Talk”. In a freewheeling, candid discussion, Modi admitted that the riots took place when he was in power and that he could not detach himself from them. Nine years later, The Indian Express brought out the complete interview in its edition dated 17th September 2013. The interview can be read here.
Those who keep repeating that Modi has no regrets for the violence of Godhra should read this interview to the end and then make judgments. Isn’t it true that Modi did not interfere with the process of law that had been initiated to fix responsibility for the riots? Did not senior political leaders face trials in various courts and receive sentences, including the death penalty? These may since have been commuted or reduced, but can anyone prove that Modi had personally intervened on behalf of those whom the courts had indicted? Could Amitav Ghosh name one person of consequence who, till 2014, had been punished for 1984? It is only in 2018 that the courts finally sentenced the senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar to imprisonment for his role in the 1984 Sikh pogrom. Jagdish Tytler, another leader whose involvement in the carnage of 1984 is well recorded, continues to lead a free life and remains a Congress leader of some consequence.
When writers like Amitav Ghosh lend their names to such irresponsible statements, they provide fodder for journals like Scroll, The Wire, Print, Outlook, and Caravan etc, to give a special kind of communal slant to their publications. Ironically, they chose April Fools’ Day to broadcast their appeal, perhaps believing that the people are fools and do not understand what is good for them. However, I believe the joke will be on them when the results come in on the 23rd of May 2019. Hopefully, the ghosts of Mrs Gandhi and the Congress party would have been finally laid to rest before the General Elections are held in 2024.