Restoring Gujarat's image

THE DECISION OF the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, and the State's BJP unit to put off the series of `rath yatras' scheduled from today is indeed a matter of great relief to the extent that an imminent threat to the fragile peace obtaining there has receded — the programme has only been "deferred", not called off. But the disturbing point remains that the postponement was not born out of any change of heart or of the realisation that the yatra contained communally explosive potential. Far from it. The decision to put it off is only in the nature of a deferential response, and a grudging one at that, to the "apprehensions" the National Human Rights Commission has expressed on this score. In fact, however, apart from the NHRC's stern note of warning, it was the groundswell of protest and intense political pressure and, above all, the intelligence agencies' own no less disturbing assessment of the situation that had evidently caused the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to intervene and ensure that Mr. Modi was stopped in his tracks.

What has been billed as a campaign to create an "atmosphere of communal harmony, confidence and peace" is a brazen attempt at political mobilisation on communal lines and to consolidate the so-called `Hindu vote bank' in favour of the ruling BJP, with its latest icon (Mr. Modi) criss-crossing the State in his `rath' as per a staggered `yatra' schedule, and Mr. Modi, it was said, would be educating the people on his Government's "achievements". All this, in the name of restoring communal amity and hailing Gujarat's "gaurav" (sense of honour)! Could there be anything more preposterous and cruelly ironic than a person like Mr. Modi — one whose regime saw Gujarat's image tarnished and the civil society polarised communally as never before — projecting himself as the upholder of the State's honour? Clearly, the `rath yatras' are but a part of the BJP's grand design to prepare the ground for an early election to the State Assembly, the go-ahead for which had been given to Mr. Modi by the party's national executive at Goa over two months ago. Of a piece with that are the devious ways the Modi administration has been adopting to project a picture of `normality', as for instance the sort of coercion and intimidation exerted on riot-hit families in relief camps to force them out.

Set in the BJP's overall poll-focussed strategic context, Mr. Modi's `rath yatras' are a blatant provocation for violence, given the underpinning of an aggressive majoritarian agenda and the sense of insecurity that continues to pervade the minority community, the worst hit in the post-Godhra mayhem. In fact, even the annual Jagannath temple `rath yatra' due to take place on July 12 carries the real risk of triggering communal disturbances because of the `heightened sensitivity' at the moment, as has been pointed out by the NHRC while sounding a note of warning to the Government and drawing attention to the religious event's record of vulnerability. That the temple trustees are reportedly under tremendous pressure from the Sangh Parivar not to cancel the `yatra' or even agree for any modification of the route indicates the relentlessness of the Hindutva elements. It is not enough for Mr. Vajpayee and the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, to get Modi & Co. to just postpone their planned `rath yatras'; they must be made to abandon the plan for the simple reason that it is virtually an open invitation to violence. Meanwhile the nation need not be unduly grateful for the fact that the Modi administration has agreed to put off a campaign that is unabashedly incendiary and provocative. If Gujarat is to have its "gaurav" truly restored to it, Mr. Modi must step down.

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