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Our con artists

When you see the Sangh parivar rush in to defend freedom of expression, you’ve seen it all, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2007 22:10 IST
Sitaram Yechury

The hue and cry being raised by the BJP and other RSS tentacles over the issue of the stay of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen in India is, indeed, the height of duplicity. Even Narendra Modi, who conducted the symphony of bloodshed in Gujarat in 2002, has jumped on to this bandwagon by offering asylum and protection to Taslima in his state. This effort to project themselves as the champions of ‘freedom of expression’ does not even serve as a mask to conceal their true intention of seeking to sharpen communal polarisation through such a stand. Given the fact that some sections of Muslims have taken offence to Taslima’s writings on Islam and the Prophet Mohammad, the BJP has sprung to her defence. Thus, they are seeking to reinforce their anti-Muslim stance and consequently consolidate the Hindu vote-bank. Nothing else can explain this sudden fondness for Taslima.

The duplicity lies in the fact that the BJP and the saffron brigade continues with its relentless campaign to send ‘Bangladeshis’ back from the metros of Delhi and Mumbai. In the process, many a genuine Indian citizen, who happens to be a Muslim hailing from West Bengal, have been harassed and hounded. Further, further duplicity lies in their rabid intolerance of any artistic expression that they consider offensive to their religious sentiments. Over the last decade, there have been innumerable instances of brazen attacks on artists of a wide spectrum, the most infamous of them being attacks against Indian painter, M.F. Husain. His house was vandalised, his paintings that sell in international auctions at phenomenal prices were destroyed, and court proceedings were initiated against him at various places. The net result is that one of India’s illustrious sons is forced to live abroad virtually in exile. The BJP spokesman in the Lok Sabha says, “Husain is welcome to come back and face charges... We don’t stop him from coming and facing the law.” Everyone needs to both face and abide by the law. This is not the contentious issue. The same law of the land must also protect the life and properties of the concerned individual. When these are violated with impunity by the saffron brigade, where is the protection?

The concert of noted Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali was disrupted in Mumbai. The shooting of Deepa Mehta’s film, Water, was sought to be prevented. Films like Parzania on the 2002 Gujarat carnage or Fanaa are attacked. In fact, some film-makers needed to take ‘permission’ for their films to be screened. In May 2007, the saffron brigade ransacked the prestigious M.S. University in Vadodara protesting against an in-house painting of a student for hurting their religious sentiments — the same charge that some Muslim organisations have raised against Taslima. On May 19, 2007, justifying this attack, the BJP said: “Freedom of expression does not mean hurting religious sentiments.” Clearly, the saffron brigade does not accept the saying, ‘What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander’.

This list of moral policing being done by the saffron brigade can continue endlessly. However, on the question of Taslima’s stay in India, the record must be set right. The question of any foreign national visiting or staying in India is based on the granting of a visa, which is the sole prerogative of the central government. Once this is done, the centre can well prescribe certain conditions as well as locations in India where the person concerned can stay. Wherever the person stays, it is incumbent upon the concerned state government to provide security, given the fact that law and order is a state subject under our Constitution.

The UPA government’s statement in Parliament on Wednesday has clearly indicated that Taslima would be permitted to stay in India subject, of course, to the usual conditions that she would “eschew political activities in India or any actions which may harm India’s relations with friendly countries.” It is also expected that the guest “will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people.” For nearly three years, Taslima has been living in Kolkata and the West Bengal government has been providing her the required protection. It is, therefore, not merely unjust and unfair to target the West Bengal government on this score but also an outright political attack to score points.

Returning to Modi’s defence of Taslima, a report that appeared in the November 28 edition of this paper is both shocking and revealing. Two survivors of the 2002 carnage have reportedly stated that they will vote for Modi “because I don’t know what Bajrang Dal will do to us if he is voted out”. This is Abdul Majid, who lost seven family members, including a daughter who was raped and killed and two sons who were burnt alive. The other survivor who echoes this sentiment is Khaliq Noor Mohammad Sheikh. Apart from losing his father and four uncles during Partition, he lost his wife and all five children in 2002. He tells the reporter, “You must have heard of Kausar Bi, the pregnant girl whose baby was ripped out of her. I am her father.”

This unfortunately confirms that Machiavelli and his discourses with the Prince suggesting diabolic ways to retain power continue to remain valid even today. One of his dictums was: First demonstrate to the people the worst that you are capable of. Then proceed not to repeat it. The people will then heave a sigh of relief and come to look upon you as a benefactor. Machiavelli probably did not know then that he would find, centuries later, an ardent and sincere disciple in Modi.

Those who in their overpowering desire to belittle, if not eliminate, the present influence of the Left in the country, compare Nandigram with Gujarat are not only belittling the tragedy of the 2002 carnage but are, in fact, extending support to Modi and giving a degree of legitimacy to the communal carnage. The debate on Nandigram has taken place in Parliament and will continue for sometime to remain in public discourse. We have joined issue and there shall be opportunities to do so in the future as well. Suffice to state here that one cannot afford to allow anti-communist prejudices to lead into positions of support to communal fascism.

Those succumbing to such a proclivity must recollect what the German intellectual Pastor Neimoeller had said at the time of Nazi ascendancy:
“First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist.
Next they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Sitaram Yechury, MP, Rajya Sabha & Member, CPI(M) Politburo