As an independent Indian citizen, I genuinely respect Arun Shourie as a right-of-centre intellectual (though there is much I disagree with him on), and in an earlier piece on this portal, I had appreciated Shourie, among other things, for his well researched books to present points of view seen as politically incorrect by left-liberals, raising issues like Muslim communalism and sexism in independent India, financially incentivised conversions by Christian missionaries and the damage caused by caste-based reservations, while equally being critical of communal hate-mongering and violence by loonies in the Hindu right.
Another such personality I admire is Swapan Dasgupta, who, despite his avowed leanings in favour of the BJP, never shies away from criticizing them for their wrongs, such as the unnecessary and distasteful controversy created by BJP member Ram Madhav over Vice President Hamid Ansari having not participated in the International Yoga Day celebrations. However, in a recent piece, Dasgupta has contended that there have been all kinds of ideologically motivated crimes in India over the decades, and so, writers returning their awards over the Dadri incident is indicative of rejecting the legitimacy of the democratically elected Modi government.
A similar line of argument is being advanced by many others, with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 and the killings and forced displacements of the Kashmiri Hindus in 1989-1990 being cited as grave occasions, which did not lead these writers to not accept, or reject awards. Both of these were undoubtedly great human tragedies, especially with the alleged masterminds of the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 roaming free (despite the convictions of hundreds of rioters) and not even a single person having been convicted for the killings and forced displacements of the Kashmiri Hindus in 1989-1990. I am also willing to concede that these two episodes haven’t been given as much attention in our public discourse as they should, but unlike some people, I refuse to misuse the pain of the victims of these tragedies to condone or justify the crimes of the Hindu right, as if a more highlighted wrongdoing is any less of a wrongdoing.
Coming to the point, why do I think that the return of awards now is justified (and something I extend my solidarity with), and not returning the awards earlier didn’t amount to intellectual dishonesty? The answer is simple – as for earlier crimes, multiple politicians from the ruling party at the centre (in which I even count the Vajpayee-led BJP back then) did not publicly justify or undermine the crime, the way so many from the BJP have in the current scenario, and a citizen is bound to feel insecure for he expects the government to ensure law and order. The prime minister’s statement amounted to being “too little” and “too late” and did not amount to much, and he is clearly reluctant to emphatically condemn the murder, when others in his party (barring Manohar Parrikar), including cabinet ministers like Mahesh Sharma and Rajnath Singh have been engaging in verbal jugglery, other than those engaging in outright defence of a hate crime. This reluctance on Modi’s part is dangerous (as I have discussed in some detail here) and undoubtedly merits protest. In other words, the protest was not only because one man was mercilessly killed over an unjustifiable reason to kill, that too supposedly on suspicion, but because of the chain of remarks justifying or condoning that hate crime, not only from “fringe elements” but with ministers like Mahesh Sharma calling it an accident and Rajnath Singh denying the communal nature of the hate crime.
Equally, I would emphasize that sections of Indian Muslims who tend to exaggerate their victimhood as if to suggest perennial oppression, portray as though no one cares for their grouping in India and showcase their entire grouping as only being at the receiving end of communal violence (overlooking, for instance, the recent news of a Hindu boy in Bihar being murdered by Muslim extremists for marrying a Muslim girl, or the killings of innocent Hindus in a communal riot in Rampur over a petty issue of some Hindu farmers’ cattle having strayed into Muslim peasants’ farms or how before the Dadri incident, an innocent constable in Maharashtra was killed as a retaliation against the beef ban in that state, or how very many innocent Hindus were killed by Muslim rioters in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and Gujarat in 2002 and not only the reverse, or what the Kashmiri Hindus had to undergo) ought to acknowledge how India’s civil society has very resolutely risen for them on every occasion, and they do enjoy better civil liberties and security of life and property in India than very many Muslim-majority countries, not to speak of the non-Muslim minorities in those countries.
While I do understand that most Indian Muslims are deeply disturbed about Modi becoming India’s prime minister (as are many strongly tolerant Hindus like me), that shouldn’t be a reason to begrudge Hindus as a collectivity either, with his victory with a low vote-share at a time with a justifiable anti-incumbency sentiment, and with Modi having tried to showcase a commitment to religious pluralism (thanks to the Indian voter having rejected the BJP in 2004 and 2009 over its Hindu rightist politics), as has been discussed in some detail here.
Besides, with all due respect, those who shy away from condemning Jinnah for the Direct Action Day riots (before which Jinnah said he wanted India divided or destroyed and after which he said he didn’t want to discuss ethics) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt, those who shy away from condemning Kashmiri separatists like Yasin Malik for killing and driving away the Kashmiri Hindus or are willing to give them the benefit of doubt (as for rebutting the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece, and it is noteworthy that none of the Kashmiri Muslim perpetrators have been convicted, unlike hundreds rightly convicted in connection with the Gujarat riots for the massacres in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, and the Kashmiri Hindus haven’t even been rehabilitated the way the Muslims driven out from the village of Atali have, and while the media has rightly consistently supported the Muslims of Atali, it has actually been biased against the Kashmiri Hindus on some occasions – so much for our national media, on the whole, being supposedly biased against Muslims) and those who shy away from condemning Azam Khan for the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur (it is noteworthy that he has not even been chargesheet-ed in spite of sting operations suggesting his involvement, while Maya Kodnani was rightly convicted, , and my point is not with respect to how much evidence is available in which case for what sentence, but whether the narrative of “Hindu riot-instigating politicians always go scot-free and Muslims are only victims, not perpetrators of riots” is true, and I believe that the issue should be ‘powerful vs. non-powerful’, ‘vote-bank politics vs. the spirit of democracy’ and so so, rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt (and I reiterate that I am not stereotyping all Indian Muslims – there are many of them who condemn the likes of Jinnah, Yasin Malik and Azam Khan in unambiguous terms) indeed have absolutely no business to be spitefully critical of those shying away from condemning Modi or those who give him the benefit of doubt for what happened in 2002.
But then, I digress. Muslim communalism doesn’t justify Hindu communalism or vice versa, and we have to coexist peacefully. Om, Ameen!