It’s like a detergent ad, with two brands pointing to the failures of each other at achieving whiteness. Writer-journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay uses this analogy to describe the 1984-vs-2002 argument on communal riots and the politics of hate.
And, rejecting the theory that 2014 marked a shift away from identity politics, he in fact points towards “latent majoritarianism” in the media and society at large. “The Press is only reflecting this growing feeling in our society that ‘the minority had it coming’.”
Here for the launch of his book ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ at ‘Literati’, the literature festival being organised by the Chandigarh Literary Society at the Lake Club, Mukhopadhyay makes it a point to underline how, while the Congress was the prime perpetrator, even the RSS — parent organisation of the currently-ruling BJP — was involved “implicitly and explicitly” in the anti-Sikh riots in the first week of November that followed the then PM Indira Gandhi’s October 31 assassination, 31 years ago. “How else did the Congress get such a huge majority in the elections that followed? It had the RSS’s backing.”
“All parties use communalism. While the Congress opts for it as an electoral strategy, the RSS has it ingrained in its ideology.” But he stresses that “both brands are equally dangerous – whether it is an aberration or an ideological base, and whether it is majority communalism or minority communalism.”
Writer of the biography ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’, Mukhopadhyay has said in as many words that “if the Godhra incident had not occurred and if that had not been followed by the orgy of violence, Narendra Modi would not have been what he subsequently became…” However, he disagrees with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s recent reiteration of the belief that ‘2002 Godhra won’t have happened if 1984 had not taken place’. “Both riots had their own logics; one can’t juxtapose riots like it’s some Rin ad!”
Coming back to today, Mukhopadhyay seeks to also bust the theory that the 2014 election was more about development and less about Hindutva. “Even Modi’s campaign had clear Hindutva elements. Why did he call Rahul Gandhi ‘shahzada’ and not ‘rajkumar’; and why did he use the term ‘Dilli saltanat’ repeatedly or refer to the ‘1,200 years of enslavement’, including the Muslim rule of India as a period of ‘ghulami’?... It is part of how the RSS sees India.”
About his book on 1984, he says he did not want to write another investigation report, but only wanted to tell stories of the people affected by the violence. “It is part journalism, part analysis, and part academic exercise.” He addresses in particular the “attempt to shift the blame for the 1984 riots to society; to say that there was already anger against the Sikhs at large for the communal strife seen in Punjab”.
He is also admittedly worried about the current strife in Punjab. “It started in a farmers’ agitation, and has since taken a religious turn. People in Punjab perhaps know what they do not want, but not what they want.” Acknowledging that Bhindranwale was emerging as a hero over the past few years, he sees the anger spiralling into a communal clash “if the government does not carry out its responsibility”. He outrightly rejects the theory that Pakistan or foreign forces have a hand in it. “The culprits are right here. Someone is getting it done.” He refuses to go into who stands to gain out of possible Sikh-Hindu strife in Punjab. As for his next book, “it is about the RSS”.