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Judging the future by the past

It was a year largely caught up in the violence perpetrated by the terrorist, the criminal and the common man; a sign that the gloom of 2002 might continue into 2003. But, perhaps, if we looked inside us, there might be a lot more to be optimistic about, says ANIL DHARKER, looking at the days ahead.

A face to violence ... The photograph of the year that struck a chord.

THINK of one image, one picture which says more than a thousand words about the year gone by, and you will think of one photograph. It's of a young man of Gujarat, his face streaked with sweat and dirt (and may be even blood), his hands joined together in the gesture which, in our country, is a greeting but all over the world is the gesture of supplication. What strikes us is the terror in his eyes and the intensity of his pleading: he seems to be begging for his life.

Which, of course, is what he was doing. From subsequent reports, we know that the mobs of Gujarat, for whatever reason, spared him, one of the few Muslims to have escaped the brutal violence of Gujarat 2002. That picture became a symbol for something which we can neither understand nor come to terms with. How, we ask, can carnage on this scale have happened in, of all places, Gujarat? The State which produced the apostle of non-violence, where Mahatma Gandhi lived and used the words satyagraha and ahimsa, where most people are vegetarians and conservative, where most women stay at home and where Prohibition is still State policy... .

This particular photograph struck a chord across the country because it put a face to violence. There were other pictures of horror, of course, and they came from all over the country, right through the year. They came, again and again, from Jammu and Kashmir; they came from the attack on the USIS building in Kolkata, on the Parliament Complex in Delhi, on the Amarnath Yatra in August on the Raghunath Temple in March and November. They came from Ansal Plaza in Delhi, the Akshardham Temple in Gujarat, from the Veerappan slaying in Karnataka... Terrorists may have brought down the World Trade Center in September last year, but 2002 at least for us, was truly the Year of Violence.

The violence was of three kinds: the Violence of the Terrorist, the Violence of the Criminal and the Violence of the Common Man. The criminal's was the easiest to understand and caused the least harm to society in general; it was also the easiest to control. Veerappan is the extreme form of this violence, but it has been part and parcel of every major (and minor) city through its mafia dons. Everywhere in the world they start the same way: young men with more ambition than opportunities, more greed than scruples, join the underworld. The more skilled of them rise in the hierarchy and the "CEO" types become dons. The growth of their empires depends on the nexus they can forge with politicians and police; the greater the co-operation between the law-breakers with the law-makers and the law-enforcers, the greater the spread of the underworld empire.

The real world ... Like it or not, India will have to follow certain universal norms.

What distinguishes developing societies from developed ones is that the nexus is far stranger in the former, which is why the underworld flourished here till recently. In the last few years, in Mumbai at least, the police's policy of "encounters" has virtually crippled the mafia. So much so that the only members of the underworld now seem to be crooked politicians and rogue police! What this shows is that a determined effort can control violence, and that lesson applies to violence of all kinds, except for the Violence of the Terrorist.

In that we are not alone. As Osama bin Laden showed in September last year, even the most powerful country on earth can do nothing when confronted with a group of determined individuals with fanaticism on their side. No battalions of security forces and no armies of commando forces can stop them, especially if they choose soft targets like random civilians. The daily violence in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the regular series of killings in Palestine are one of a kind. You can stop them only if you take away the root cause, which in our case, is finding a permanent solution to Kashmir.

Is that going to happen in a hurry? More importantly, does a solution even exist which will satisfy Kashmir, Pakistan and India? There isn't. So the Kashmir issue, soft hands of Mufti Mohammad Sayed notwithstanding, will continue to be a breeding crowd for jehadi terrorists. It's a prediction I hate to make, but 2003 will see even more terrorist violence than at present, with more men, women and children becoming innocent victims of the jehadi quest for "justice" and "martyrdom".

At the heart of the Violence of the Terrorist there are two main ideologies. One is single-minded belief in the rightness of the "Cause". The second is a turning-back on modernity whose net result is turning back the clock on advances made by humanity in the areas of civil liberties and equality for women.

The Raghunath Mandir, Akshardham, Ansal Plaza ... repeated images of terror.

Amazingly, these same set of ideologies are also part of the agenda of the Violence of the Common Man. In Gujarat, where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) extremists orchestrated the killings, the motivation was, foremost, to curb the rights of the minorities. But if you read the VHP manifesto, it's a mirror image of the jehadi manifesto, especially in the areas of curbing women's rights, in going forward in the modern world and in preserving one's civil liberties. Imagine the irony of Islamic extremists and Hindu extremists agreeing on everything!

The year 2002 wasn't just the Year of Violence. It was also a watershed year for the country as we will realise in the years to come; a marker much like 1989 (L.K. Advani's rath yatra) and 1992 (the Babri Masjid demolition). Each of these are milestones on a road that's inexorably leading us into a one-way street from which there is no return. To change metaphors, in 1989 Advani began to procure the parts which could be assembled into Frankenstein's monster; in 1992, he got a lot of the technology. It took another 10 years before everything fell into place and the monster finally acquired a life of its own.

If Atal Bihari Vajpayee was full of courage instead of platitudes, the monster could still have been controlled. But the Prime Minister of the country did not dismiss a criminal Chief Minister, only reprimanded him. The moment has passed, and the Gujarat elections have underlined how quickly they have passed. Frankenstein's monster is now fully alive and kicking and wherever he will go, he will cause havoc.

We will see that havoc in the years to come. Modi and Togadia's monster will consume Vajpayee and Advani, but it will do much more. Because, as we have seen above, this monster isn't just about Hindutva or secularism or about religion. This monster is against everything that's good of the 20th/21st Century.

What it will do in 2003 is divert the country's time and energy from our journey into modernity. It will divert national attention from development issues to areas which are completely irrelevant to that journey. These irrelevant issues will include debates on a variety of subjects, many of them economic. We will thus get into debates which will delay disinvestments; we will get into debates about whether economic policy should be "swadeshi" or "violence"; we will get into debates about foreign investment and ownership.

We will also get into acrimonious (and violent) discussions on morality and values. Most of the world recognises that the strength of India, and the reasons why Indians do so well abroad is that Indians are able to skilfully blend modernity with traditional value systems. Take out one and you lose your anchor, take out the other and you have the problems of much of the developed world. Frankenstein's monster will disregard this, and try and assert his will even here.

Is there, then, no light in the gloom of 2002 going on 2003? There's a glimmer, and that comes from a process which bypasses the government, politicians and sundry assorted leaders.

The glimmer comes from an increasingly active Judiciary and its willingness to encroach into territories strictly not its own. Prodded on by more vocal, more active and more assertive citizen's groups, the Judiciary has consistently begun to define what governments should do. In a well-balanced democracy this would be disturbing; in an ill-balanced one like ours, its territorial intrusions are welcome.

Then there are the international pulls and pressures which tells us that however much the Sangh Parivar may want to bury its head in its own sand, we do belong to a world community. That community (through agreements like the World Trade Organisation) will tell us to conform to certain universal norms and through them force us into removing many barriers. Their removal will take even the reactionaries kicking and screaming into the real world.

Hope, finally, lies in the human spirit, which struggles on regardless. It is aided and abetted by advances in science, many of which will help us improve the quality of our lives, and damn the politicians. For example, an Indian scientist working in the United States has invented solar tiles which installed on the roof of remote villages, will convert into electricity. There are the Israeli tomatoes which contain a vaccine against diarrhoea, India's largest killer. There's the American car which uses no petrol, emits no pollution and working on fuel cells, is an environmentalist's dream. There's the Japanese super computer which is nothing less than an Earth Simulator.

There's a glimmer...from an increasingly active Judiciary

It will keep track of everything that is happening around the globe's climate and project it into the future to calculate the repercussions. There's an invention which will let us walk miles at top speed, another which will generate cheap, green electricity ... Yes, there's hope. The tragedy of India is that you have to look hard for it outside. But, perhaps, if we looked inside us, which shouldn't be so hard to do, we might find a lot more to be optimistic about.

A Happy 2003. Change that to "Here's to each one of us making 2003 a happy new year."

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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