Narendra Modi’s fast reminds us of an old adage common to many Indian folk tales: A cat after devouring hundreds of rats proceeds on a pilgrimage to seek atonement.
Fasting as a means of atonement is a universal value recognised by all religions and cultures. Jews fast on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Christians observe Lent. For Muslims, it’s the month of Ramzan.
The Koran says: “to fast is to do good unto yourselves, if you but knew it”. In our cultures, Hinduism and Jainism are replete with fasts observed for cleansing and repentance.
The Mahatma elevated this to a spiritual instrument of struggle effectively used during our freedom struggle.
Modi’s fast, however, makes a mockery of these lofty values.
The 2002 communal genocide in Gujarat has been decried by all the constitutional authorities in the country like the National Human Rights Commission, the Election Commission and a plethora of NGOs. Apart from the deaths, the ghastly rapes and the maiming of thousands, even after nearly a decade, there are 21,448 internally displaced people in Gujarat living in 45 camps over 11 districts.
Without expressing any remorse, Modi says that he gave “the mantra of development, so that wounds could be healed”. All economic studies point to what a prominent economist has said that there is deep-rooted poverty and income inequality in Gujarat.
The claims that the benefits of development have reached all people, irrespective of their creed is dispelled by the findings of studies by expert committees that show that the Muslims are the most educationally deprived community in Gujarat.
There is no Urdu daily published from Gujarat today.
There are various reasons why this fast has been undertaken at this time. The obvious is the effort to break out of the ‘communal monster’ mould. This is based on a deliberate misreading of the latest Supreme Court decision interpreting it as a ‘clean chit’, absolving him of his complicity in the communal carnage.
The apex court, on the contrary, has directed the trial court to expeditiously proceed with the trial of the Gulbarga Society case by handing over all material before it, including the reports of the amicus curiae and that of the special investigation team, to be considered as evidence.
The matter has, thus, gone beyond the filing of an FIR against Modi. The issue is now of a trial on these charges.
Another reason for this fast is to divert attention from the appointment of the lokayukta fearing exposure of alleged large-scale corruption.
This is mainly an effort to declare his entry into the national scene as a potential prime ministerial candidate. The BJP president has recently announced that it’d contest the 2014 elections on the basis of a ‘collective leadership’.
Soon after LK Advani, virtually declaring his candidature, undeterred by the law of diminishing returns that has been operating exponentially with him, decided to embark on a sixth yatra since the 1990 rath yatra.
That yatra, under the battle cry of ‘mandir wahin banayenge’ led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid — universally considered as the darkest blot in the history of the modern, secular and democratic Indian Republic. It left behind a bloody trail.
Within two months, by December, the media were reporting the death of nearly a thousand people in communal clashes.
Karl Marx had once commented that Friedrich Hegel had said that history repeats itself. The first time as a tragedy and the second time as a farce. This yatra of Advani would be a farce of the sixth order.
Meanwhile, the BJP president himself, according to media reports, underwent a bariatric surgery — recommended only for severely obese people — to lose weight. While his medical condition needs to be sympathised with, this move is cynically being seen in some quarters as an effort to be physically fit for any eventuality.
Further, it is a well-known fact that the BJP leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament are also serious contenders for a future prime ministership.
Returning to Advani’s yatra. He has declared that this would be against corruption. Riding on the widespread popular sentiment against corruption galvanised by Anna Hazare’s fast, Advani seems to believe that this anti-corruption campaign is transferable! Advani and the BJP would do well to look inwards.
The lokayukta of Chhattisgarh has severely indicted the Raman Singh-led BJP state government for rampant corruption in every department, equating corrupt officers with “fish in the pond dying to consume more and more water”. This comes soon after the Karnataka lokayukta’s severe indictment of the BJP state government.
After much reluctance, the BJP was forced to ask chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to step down. This was followed by the arrest of the Reddy brothers, former ministers in the state cabinet, on the issue of large-scale illegal mining.
In haste, the BJP has changed its chief minister in Uttarakhand before charges of corruption could consume its state government. This is its track record.
The RSS-BJP’s internal bickering over the potential PM candidate is its internal affair. However, this reminds us of a saying in Telugu: A person who is neither married nor has a home declares his son’s name as ‘Somalingam’! There is no general election in the offing and there is no indication of any ground swell of support for the BJP. Yet a rat race is on.
Those who argue that ‘India 2011’ is different from ‘India 1992’ would do well to realise that at this very moment, communal riots are claiming innocent lives. More than a dozen lives have been consumed in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Nothing else need be said.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal)