And the twain shall never meet

Peace marches make little sense if the participants do not see eye to eye. The BJP flaunts Hindutva which means the creation of a Hindu state. Its opponents believe in a pluralistic society. How can they ever meet? On paper, a peace march by Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, in Ahmedabad sounds good. But is Mr. Vajpayee willing to give up Hindutva? If this word really connotes what the most vigorous proponent of Hindutva, the Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, claims why not substitute Hindutva with Bhartiyata, which conveys the ethos of Hindutva, so that it reflects the essentials of a composite society?

The strategy of the BJP has always been to push Hindutva through fair means or foul. Mr. Advani's rath yatra is one example. If there is an uproar it sheepishly withdraws and talks in secular terms. How easily Mr. Vajpayee changes from one posture to another! Now that the Gujarat carnage has given the party a bad name, it has washed its hands of any responsibility regarding what the Hindutva elements have done in the State. The party is now talking sweet and honey for harmony. But wait till it gets another opportunity to push its agenda.

For the Sangh Parivar, the pluralism of the country is not a matter of faith. It continues to pursue what it started in 1947. We escaped the Parivar's nefarious designs because the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 shocked the nation so much that the communalists were beaten up if they talked in provoking terms. We had a reprieve of some 30 years. The Parivar again pushed its line after joining the Janata Party and then openly propagating Hindutva.

Gujarat shows what things have come to. Why do the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal go scot-free after indulging in cold-blooded massacre? The BJP-led Government at the Centre will use Article 355 to the extent where it does not have to take action against the Hindu fundamentalists and terrorists. But it appears that the criticism is beginning to tell upon the BJP's posture of equanimity.

I still do not know why the Union Rural Affairs Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, lost his cool when I said in the Rajya Sabha that no Vajpayees and Advanis would be able to harm our composite culture. I had had surgery and my doctors had asked me not to speak. But I couldn't help it. The challenge to our basic values is so great after what has happened in Gujarat that everybody must speak out. We fought for a pluralistic society which the Hindutva forces are now trying to destroy. I told them that they would never succeed. I said: ``Hindus and Muslims know how to live together in peace if the communal forces leave them alone''.

What Mr. Naidu has not appreciated is that if a member like me, away from politics and parties, has felt so deeply aggrieved over the happenings, the reaction all around must be more adverse. However, the debate in the Rajya Sabha, although it lasted for many hours, was desultory. By adopting the motion that the Opposition had introduced to ask the Centre to intervene, the Government took the sting out of the debate. Since the voting was only a formality, the debate never reached the kind of climax it did in the Lok Sabha.

I was pleasantly surprised over Mr. Advani's intervention in the Lok Sabha after the speech of the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, who is always trying to prove to the RSS Parivar that he is one step ahead of them when it comes to defending the guilty in the BJP. Mr. Fernandes said that the cases of rape and barbarity against Gujarati Muslim women were no different from what had been happening in the last 55 years. What Mr. Advani objected to was the way Mr. Fernandes went into gory details as if it was an everyday occurrence. In any case, it was no defence that such incidents had taken place earlier.

Muslims have done well in being positive in their reaction to the Gujarat carnage. They have joined Hindus in peace marches and public meetings to condemn the happenings. But I am pained to see the reaction of some Muslims organisations to the BJP-BSP Government at Lucknow. However, immoral the combination, it is a political matter which does not have to have a religious response. This is as reprehensible as the acts of omission and commission by the Sangh Parivar.

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