Gujarat continues to haunt the BJP. If Chief Minister Narendra Modi captured the political centrestage by playing hate politics, former party chief LK Advani tried to dislodge him with his pro-Jinnah remarks.
Even as the debate on Modi’s alleged involvement in inciting communal violence and Advani’s justification for praising Jinnah continues, another BJP MP from Gujarat, Babubhai Katara, hogged the headlines for his role in the human trafficking racket. The Modi government’s admission that Sohrabuddin Sheikh was killed in a fake encounter and the same fate may have befallen his wife, Kauser Bi, should be enough for the BJP to hang its head in shame.
The party, whose self-righteous approach created an impression among a section of the voters that it was a party with a difference, has to go a long way to redeem itself in the eyes of the people. In the cash-for-query scam, the BJP MPs topped the list and as time passes, more skeletons are tumbling out. The Gujarat BJP has always been in the news for the wrong things and its central leaders now have the gall to play down the killing of Sheikh by describing him as a criminal. Assuming he was a criminal, does it give anyone the right to take the law in their own hands?
Over the years, the BJP has lost the courage to own up to mistakes and get rid of people responsible for lapses. In the Congress, when Indira Gandhi was perceived to be straying from the path of democracy just before Emergency, the young Turks — Chandrashekhar, Mohan Dharia, Krishan Kant and Lakshmikantamma — protested and went to jail. However, the same cannot be said about the BJP.
When the Godhra riots rocked the country, the then Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, gave the impression that he had the courage to speak out. He reprimanded Modi and advised him to observe ‘raj dharma’ (tenets of governance). During the BJP’s Goa national executive in 2002, there were again some indications that Modi may be asked to step down.
But realpolitik took over and the younger leaders egged on by Advani rallied around Modi. And Vajpayee, who hoped to emerge as the winner, did his famous flip-flop and supported the CM. This episode can be equated with the disrobing of Draupadi. Bhishma Pitamah or Dronacharya had expressed helplessness in stopping Dushasan from carrying out Duryodhana’s orders. The party’s value system was dismantled at this conclave and leaders like Vajpayee, MM Joshi and Keshubhai Patel looked on helplessly. Even the RSS, the controlling authority of the BJP, did not say a single word and appeared satisfied with the Hindutva experiment carried out in the Gujarat laboratory. Sheikh’s killing also raises doubts about the state version of Godhra and its aftermath.
The UC Banerjee Commission, whose legitimacy continues to be questioned by the state government, had provided startling revelations about Godhra. The commission had proved that no one had set the coach carrying kar sevaks on fire and had also nailed several other lies on the basis of documentary evidence, including the testimonies of three senior IPS officials. What seems to be evident now is that the state government does not want the truth about Godhra to come out. The Nanavati Commission appointed by it five years ago is yet to submit its report and this delay must be some kind of a record. The report will probably come out later this year before the Gujarat polls. By then Modi may again whip up communal hatred in order to consolidate the vote-bank.
What should be worrying for the BJP now is that Gujarat, which supported the party and prevented its decimation from the national scene in 2002, could review its stand vis-à-vis the party. In the aftermath of the murder of Haren Pandeya, a known opponent of Modi who was denied a ticket from Ellisbridge after being humiliated during the 2002 polls, there is a section that does not endorse Modi’s politics. If Modi has managed to continue, it is because of the support he receives from Advani and others. If Modi needs Advani for survival, Advani needs Modi to get elected from Gujarat.
It makes little difference to Advani whether Modi is on the international scanner. The denial of a US visa to the Gujarat CM was one instance when he was snubbed by a superpower. Even the break-up in the NDA started over Godhra, when Ramvilas Paswan quit the Vajpayee government. But the Modi government has continued to behave in an arbitrary manner and this was again evident during the controversy over the screening of Parzania and Fanaa. Modi’s potshots at former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh are well- known and so is the row over the inclusion of a chapter on Hitler in school textbooks.
As if all this was not enough, now Katara and MPs like him have proved that their training as people’s representatives has left much to be desired. The BJP was only interested in their victory, even though they lacked moral character. Similarly, Sheikh’s death is another case of the Modi government’s high-handedness. Thankfully, the country has a good judicial system and it will never allow fascist designs to succeed. Recent incidents and especially those concerning Gujarat have shown beyond doubt that the BJP is losing its moral fibre slowly and surely. Between us.