I never had the good fortune of interacting with Abdul Rehman Antulay when he was chief minister of Maharashtra. But some six years after he resigned, my chief reporter held him up as an example of good governance to the journalists he was training to cover politics and government. "Riots bring out both the best and the worst in people including journalists. How you cover riots, whether you stand your ground or not will test your mettle,'' he told us. Then almost jokingly added, "But if we have more CMs like Antulay, we would not have such opportunities at all!''
When I asked him to explain, he narrated the story of the 1980 Nasik riots which was quelled in an hour. "When the Nasik police commissioner called him [Antulay] to say, 'Sir, you will be happy to know that we have controlled the riots in one hour,' Antulay snapped back and said: 'I am not happy at all. I am very angry. Why did the riots happen in the first place? What were you doing when the situation was flaring up? Were you sleeping on the job?' And then he transferred the commissioner."
Antulay was then a first-time CM and in the job for barely a few months so I wonder how right Goa CM Manohar Parrikar is in absolving Narendra Modi of his inability to handle the 2002 Gujarat riots on grounds of being a novice at that time. But Modi is no longer a novice. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, however, is and also inept for it took his government a long time to act in Muzaffarnagar even though Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde had warned him to be careful.
But I believe no CM, even a novice, can be so inefficient as to deliberately create a situation detrimental to his party's interests. So I wonder if former PM VP Singh was right in feeling betrayed by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who had presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. In one of my conversations with him, he had suggested that the BJP, which was then on the ascendant in UP, and Mulayam had struck a deal to cut the Congress out by dividing the Hindu and Muslim votes between them. At that time, the Congress was led by comparatively less-crafty politicians and the party stood no chance in the face of such Machiavellian machinations.
Things, however, are different today. There are shades of Adolf Hitler in Modi for, apart from the attempt to engineer riots in UP, the exhortation to Muslims who attended his rally in Rajasthan today to don burqas and skull caps is nothing short of Hitler's diktat to Jews to wear the Star of David so that they could be easily identified by the Gestapo and dealt with appropriately if the need arose.
It is sad that Muslims are unable to see the sinister designs in the diktat. How you dress should be a matter of your own choice. However, the controversy over the imposition of burqas by the clergy on women the world over has perhaps blunted their senses to the fact that Modi, who dreams of becoming the PM, is setting them on a path to wear this identity on their person so that, unlike during the Bombay riots of 1992-93, the marauders and killers in the future will not find it difficult to identify them.
If they believe that Modi is being considerate of their stand on dress codes, I am once again reminded of VP Singh - he also told me that often the extreme left and the extreme right had the same positions on various issues. That, in the context of religion, he said, could also be interpreted as fundamentalists on both sides taking similar positions on similar issues.
This then is Modi's version of the politics of the burqa and this time it is he who is donning the burqa of communalism. Next there will be dress codes for Christians attending his rally, then for various castes and communities and so on and so forth.
Modi is no novice at this game any longer.