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India: Greatest threat to India is communalism, not corruption

Monday 1 April 2019, by siawi3


Greatest threat to India is communalism, not corruption

S Raghotham, DH News Service,

Mar 27 2019, 16:49pm ist updated: Mar 27 2019, 18:04pm ist

Democratic institutions can tackle corruption, but not communal hatred

In mid-November 2001, the young founders of a small, now defunct, IT
start-up in Bengaluru called Premier Infotech invited me to their
office. They wanted to tell me about a wonderful e-governance initiative
launched by the new chief minister of Gujarat. Mr Modi is a dynamic
chief minister, very tech-savvy. He wants every Gujarati to have a smart
card into which all their details would be written on a chip ‚ name,
address, blood group, etc. He wants us to complete the project in two
months. We are running against time. Gujarat officials are working day
and night ‚ some of them are up with us until 2-3 am through the week,
the young fellows told me breathlessly. Those days, e-governance, smart
cards, etc., were all the rage. Modi had become chief minister in
October 2001, and immediately started the smart card project. All
details of all individuals in one database with the government, and all
services to citizens delivered efficiently. That was the dream that
Gujarat had been sold.

Three months later, there was the Godhra train burning incident in which
54 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive. That was on
February 27, 2002. The bodies were allowed to be paraded through the
streets of Ahmedabad. The next day, the Gujarat riots and massacre
started, and it went on for days, in places months together. Both media
and official enquiry reports said gangs of rioters went around with
lists of people and houses to be targeted. A cross-mark was put on the
doors of Muslim households, and a day later they were attacked. People
were pulled out of their homes, raped, butchered on the streets or whole
buildings were set on fire and people burnt alive. The rest is history.
Narendra Modi became Hindu Hriday Samrat. Then, facing worldwide
opprobrium, transformed into ‘Vikas Purush’. And eventually became prime minister.

I do not know for sure if those smart cards came in handy for the
murderous rioters to find and target Muslims. But there‚s an infamous
prior example of a similar device being used to find and exterminate
millions of people of a particular religion. Hitler‚s Nazi establishment
used Hollerith punch cards ‚ primitive IT technology ‚ in the 1930s to
identify and locate Jews and mark them for elimination or concentration

February 27 was a significant date in Nazi history, too ‚ it was the day
Hitler began his capture of all State power in Germany, as a precursor
to the horrors that followed. The Nazis came to power in 1933 and Hitler
had just become its head. On February 27, some arsonists set fire to the
Reichstag, the German parliament building. Hitler immediately declared
that it was the Communists who had set the building on fire. He imposed
a national emergency and concentrated all authority in his hands. And
thus was born the Fuhrer, the man who would preside over the
extermination of six million Jews and the devastation of Europe.

Why am I recalling this now? Why is it important now? It is important
because we are at a critical juncture in our history as an independent
nation. We are facing the most important election in our history ‚ an
election for the soul of India, an election for the future of India. And
tragically, like the great Karna in Mahabharata, we seem to be
forgetting the most important, most powerful mantra of India ‚
secularism, diversity, tolerance, nay, acceptance of all kinds of people
‚at the most critical time for us. Many, including sage thinkers,
intellectuals and ordinary people are writing to say they are confused
as to who to vote for. They are caught between Modi and the rest,
between stable government and possibly a wobbly coalition, between
unkept promises of the last five years and the hopelessness of the three
years before that, between dynastic parties and a disciplined
cadre-based party, most importantly between corruption and communalism.
To me, however, the choice is clear.

Dynasties will end sooner or later; failure to keep promises, whether by
this government or the previous one, is not criminal so long as sincere
efforts were made; and corruption is a widespread phenomenon across
parties but can be tackled over time as our democracy and its
institutions evolve. Indeed, much work has been done in this direction,
including the Right To Information (RTI) Act passed in 2005. What won‚t
go away once sown, however, is communalism and hatred for fellow
Indians. That, when combined with proximity between the government of a
party that believes in a religious majoritarian ideology and big
business, is dangerous. That‚s the one thing I will not vote for.

The singular attack launched by Modi on opposition parties on corruption
is good election time rhetoric. The Modi campaign in 2014 was successful
in creating the impression that corruption was the only evil that the
country faced, that Congress and other parties were the fount-head of
that corruption and that he was the messiah who alone could put an end
to it.

Firstly, corruption is not the only nor even the greatest danger to the
country. Communalism is. The hatred being spread between communities,
including on social media, is. The impunity with which lynch mobs have
acted in the last five years is. A turn towards Fascism is. Over two
thousand years ago, Chanakya wrote: “Just as we cannot know when fish
swimming in water is drinking it, we cannot know when government
officers are appropriating public funds.” Corruption, therefore, has
been a long-standing problem – even in glorious ancient India. It did
not start with Congress party in the 20th century, as Modi and BJP want
us to believe, nor will it stop when that party is gone. But for all its
ill-effects, corruption did not break India into pieces over these
hundreds of years. What broke India into two was the sudden rise of
communalism ‚Äì both Hindu and Muslim communalism ‚ towards the end of the 19th century, leading within a few decades to the Partition of India.
Corruption is a creeping crisis, communalism is an exploding crisis.
When it raises its ugly head, as it has in the last five years, there
won‚t be time to react, to save the country from a descent into a
pogrom, a genocide, a civil war. That‚s the lesson India‚s founding
fathers ‚ including not just Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad, but also
Subhas Chandra Bose and his nemesis Sardar Patel and the right-wing in
Congress ‚ learnt and based their policies and shaping of India on.
That‚s the lesson we must learn today.

This is not to condone corruption, but to put it in perspective against
a more clear and present danger facing us. In any case, are we expected
to believe that the BJP and its leaders are not corrupt, are not the
political half of crony capitalism, only the opposition leaders and
parties are? To all those who still believe so, even after the GSPC
affair, Sahara-Birla diaries, Rafale revelations, Vijay Mallya‚s great
escape through Delhi airport‚s diplomatic channel (with 300 bags, as per
the Enforcement Directorate, and after a look-out notice against him was
diluted), the escape of the two Modis, Lalit and Nirav, and of Mehul
Choksi (of “hamare Mehul bhai yahin pe baithe hain” fame), the CBI
filing a closure report in the Janardhan Reddy mining scam case,
Electoral Bonds, the amendments to Foreign Contributions Regulation Act
to make BJP, Congress and Left parties immune to probe on foreign funds
retrospectively from 1976, the dilution of the Prevention of Corruption
Act, the Modi government‚s refusal to answer RTI queries on which
businessmen accompanied him on his foreign trips and indeed its attempt
to take control of the RTI institution, etc., and to all those who do
not wonder at all where the humongous amounts of money needed to run the massive BJP election machine comes from, all one can say is, “bhakti is

Be that as it may, so long as we are a working democracy, we will be
able to work one step at a time towards eliminating corruption of most
forms, whether Congress indulges in it or BJP or any other party. But,
if we let politicians spread hatred and polarise society and we let
their private armies indulge in violence with impunity and the rule of
law and order is overwhelmed, if we let governments and businesses
become one and take India on a path towards Fascism, that hope will be
dead. Democracy can come up with institutions to tackle corruption, it
cannot tackle communal hatred, its institutions cannot survive Fascism.
As younger brother Ravi tells elder brother Vijay in /Deewar/, ’Saare
Jahan Se Achcha’ playing in the background, in the toss up between
corruption and communalism, “jis raast pe main chal raha hoon, shayad uska anjaam bura bhi ho sakta hai, lekin jis raaste//pe aap ja rahe hain,uska anjaam sirf bura ho sakta hai, bhai!”

So, my vote will be to first save our democracy. And, unlike Karna, I
won‚t forget the mantra at this critical time. What about you?

(An earlier draft of this article was first written on February 27, but
was not published then in view of the India-Pakistan tensions at the time)

S Raghotham is Opinion Editor, Deccan Herald