Sunday, May 25, 2008

Secular Hypocrisy, Double Standard, and Regressions

Secular Hypocrisy, Double Standard, and Regressions
Arun Shourie

Dainik Jagran is today among the largest newspapers in our country. It is published from 12 cities in UP. Its circulation is around 7 lakhs. Amar Ujala is also a substantial paper. Its circulation is about 3.5 lakhs.

Addressing a public meeting on October 12, UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav denounced the two papers, "Halla Bol", he exhorted his followers, "Commence the storming". Why read them, he told them, you don't have to even see them. No one present had any doubt what they meant: Don't let them be seen, that is what it meant.

Knowing from past experience what could be in store for them, many journalits left the meeting post-haste.

Since that call, hawkers and news agents selling the two papers have been beaten up. Journalists of the two papers have been beaten up. Vehicles carrying Jagran have been waylaid and burnt. The house of the editor of Amar Ujala has been attacked. Advertisements to the papers have been cut. Thousands upon thousands of copies of the papers been torched.

Several of the "national" papers in Delhi have just looked the other way. As I write this the assault has been going on for 12 days. It is not just that The Times of India has not deigned to comment on it editorially, for the first 11 days it had not carried one word, not on the matter even in its news columns. It was only on the 12th day, after the studied inattention had been brought to the personal attention of the proprietors of Times of India, that the paper carried a "news analysis" on the assault. "Veteran journalists", and civil righters who have been fulminating at the arrest of a pro-ULFA editor in Guwahati, who have been issuing statements about an editor being prosecuted for publishing pornographic material, who were all sound and fury when the government had to restrain a Jalandhar paper from carrying material helpful to the terrorists -- not a line out of any one of them on the assault on these two papers.

Now, supposing some chief minister had exhorted his followers to attack, say, Mainstream. Compared to the circulation of Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala, its circulation is as good as non-existent. Having devoted itself to glorifying the communist regimes of East Europe etc, the magazine is, at least in content, almost defunct. But a chief minister would have to have just uttered the words Mulayam Singh used, and what a mighty din our "national papers" would have raised.

The reason for the difference speak to our condition.

Those two papers are published from out of Delhi. Mainstream is published in Delhi.

More consequential, those two papers are published in Hindi, Mainstream in English.

Even more consequential is the identity of the instigator. Imagine what they would have done if a BJP leader had sparked the assault. But Mulayam Singh is the hope of the secularists.

But the most consequential fact is another one: The "national papers" have dubbed Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala to be "communal papers" -- that is, "pro-Hindu papers", for I have never heard any secular journalist dub the papers even of the Muslim League, to say nothing of papers of the Akalis, "communal" -- while Mainstream has of course always been a "progressive" publication.

Similarly, recall the fury that they displayed when Safdar Hashmi, an actor close to the CPI(M), was killed, so much so that a substantial industry has grown up out of that death. The other day, P Rajgopalan, the president of the Hindu Munnani, was hacked to death in Madurai. Some of the papers took due notice of the killing, others deigned merely to put it on their inside pages. It was only in the brief announcements of his death that we learnt that he had suffered grievous head injuries as a result, and that at the time he was killed he had recovered from them. Even the papers which had reported the hacking to death the first day, had completely forgotten it by the next day.

For four years over two lakh refugees driven out of their homes in the Valley have been rotting under torn tents in Jammu. We scarcely hear of them. Long ago, Mr L K Advani had asked the telling question about them: What, and how much would our "national papers" have been writing about them had they not been Hindus, if they had been Muslims in particular?

The same question can be asked about the women who were chased into the sugarcane fields and molested and raped by Mulayam Singh's "police". One or two reports, and the matter has been allowed to be forgotten. Indeed, great play has been given to statements which have pooh-poohed the assault. What would the "national papers" not have done if the women had been Muslims or "activists of the CPI(M) "? And what would the papers have not been doing if the assault on these women, if the assault on the Allahabad High Court had taken place with a BJP government in office?

Now, the point is not that these papers have any particular sympathy for Muslims, or for the "progressiveness". It is just that to be seen in photographs with them so to say, has been the fashion. It has been the way to establish one's "secularism", one's " commitment to total transformation".

The commentators justify, and where that is not possible condone, and where even that is not possible paperover everything Mulayam Singh or Laloo Yadav do on the ground, "But the alternative is BJP". That is bad enough: They have thus become accomplices in the ruin of institutions, in the spreading of casteism in UP and Bihar. And given this logic, the unbalance is certain to get worse in the coming months: The worse the conduct of Mulayam Singh and Laloo Yadav gets, the more these editorialists will have to strain to justify the continuance of these leaders; and so the more lurid the colors in which these editorialists will have to, and therefore will paint the BJP etc.

But I believe that to think that these commentators are justifying and condoning the deeds of Mulayam Singh and Laloo Yadav because doing so is their way of keeping the BJP out, to think this is to put too high a motive on their double-standards. What they dread is not, "But the alternative is the BJP". What they dread is to have to give up the epithets and phrases and "theses" they have internalised. These are the only phrases and "theses" they know.

There is an exact counterpart to them in academia. The world has changed since 1989. The collapse of the Soviet Union and East European communist regimes has shown how bogus were the claims of Marxism-Leninism. But at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi, at the Central University in Hydrabad, the same textbooks continue to be taught, the same verbiage continues to be regurgitated. Now, that is not because the professors fear "But the alternative is American imperialism", and going on vomiting the old phrases and 'analyses' is their way of helping roll back that imperialism. Their fear is that to notice the collapse of the regimes they had idolised would mean to blow up the investment of their lifetime -- in those "analyses" and "theses" and those forecastes about the "galloping crisis of capitalism." You can imagine how acute that dread is when those "analyses" and theses are the only ones one knows.

And so they continue teaching the same things from the same textbooks. It is for that same reason, and not about any convictions about the BJP etc. that our commentators persist with their double standards.

At the least, these double-standards nudge politicians into adopting ruinous policies. The simple-minded equivalences of our indigenous ideologues -- "Nationalization equals Socialism. Socialism equals helping the poor" -- are what cheered Mrs Indira Gandhi on to her ruinous policies not the Fabians. She hadn't read the latter. The same sorts of derailments continue to this day: "Reservations equal Social Justice", for instance.

Imagine the government introduced a bill in Parliament laying down in effect that tenancy and rent control laws would not apply to any property owned by Muslim trusts: If the lease is more than a year old, tenants from them will henceforth be evicted the bill provides, and the district authorities shall use such force as is necessary to evict them. Not a word of protest from our secular "national press". Naturally then, to get votes of the Muslim league members, the government introduces the bill. And that will surely stoke demands from the Hindus.

Imagine a prime minister announcing that he is setting aside Rs 500 crore for a new bank to be used by Hindus alone. The papers would shout and scream, and the prime minister would be kept to the path of secularism. But he announced just that in his Independence Day address in August, except that the 500 crore are going to be for a bank which shall lend only to non-Hindus. Not a word from the secular commentators. So, from the prime minister's point of view this is yet another costless way of wooing the Muslim vote: The thekedars who will deliver the Muslim votes are pleased for they shall acquire 500 crores to disburse, the money is public money so it is no skin off the prime minister's back, and, as the papers look the other way, his secular credentials too remain unimpaired.

So, public policy is goaded into ruinous directions. There are two additional consequences which are even worse. They will descend with the greatest force on the very groups on whose behalf these papers and rulers say they are shouting.

Apart from other consequences, the destruction of the Babri mosque had one dramatic effect: It brought home to the ordinary Muslim the costs of the Shahabuddin, Imam Bukhari, Owaisi type politics. In the months that followed therefore, leaders of their kind were held responsible by Muslims for what had befallen Muslims. They were shunned. Some of them were heckled down when they got up to speak at meetings of Muslims. The voices that were listened to by Muslims, the voices that reached non-Muslims as being representative of Muslim opinion were the moderate ones: Of Bandookwala from Baroda, of Imtiaz Ahmed and others from Delhi.

With the double-standards back in full tilt, the moderate voices have receded again, into complete oblivion. The old politics and thekedars are back again.

The consequences will not be different. These revolutionaries-by-proxy commentators cheered Laloo Yadav as the man-of-the-people, exactly as they are rationalizing Mulayam Singh today. But the principal consequence of the politics of these leaders has been to ignite the strongest hatred of Yadavs in Bihar and UP. In cheering such leaders for their "secularism", in exhorting the Muslims -- I am using the very words of one of the leading ideologues of this new social engineering -- "to vote as Muslims and thereby help defeat the forces of fascism," these fellows are fomenting the same consequence for Muslims.

The consequence is made all the more certain as the return to double standards -- in differentiating between papers that are assaulted, in differentiating between persons who are killed, in differentiating between persons who are driven out of their homes, in differentiating between women who are raped, in differentiating between banks and properties depending on whether they are owned by and meant for Hindus or non-Hindus -- in doing so the secularists are once again causing Hindus to conclude that they do not have voice in their own country.

Few things could do better calculated than these regressions to put Hindus back on the road to Ayodhya.

The Observer
November 8, 1994

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