Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Eleven Shiv Sena MPs, dissatisfied with the meals served at the New Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, after holding a press conference there, forced a Muslim member of the contracting Railway catering staff to eat an “indelible” chapatti, forcing it into his mouth despite his wearing a give-away name badge

A Thundering Silence

The government remains quiet in the face of growing saffron venom and new Gujarat textbooks that show Afghanistan and Tibet as part of India.

By B G Verghese

Tribune, 27 July, 2014

There is a time for silence and a time to speak. Last week witnessed some most shameful events, especially on the part of the BJP and its allies that warranted strong comment. What we got was silence from the top and dodgy explanations from the rest. In fact the defiant and irrelevant explanations were worse than the original statement, a compound of divisiveness, hate and wilful provocation.

Eleven Shiv Sena MPs, dissatisfied with the meals served at the New Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, after holding a press conference there, forced a Muslim member of the contracting Railway catering staff to eat an “indelible” chapatti, forcing it into his mouth despite his wearing a give-away name badge, Arshad, that disclosed his religious identity and ignoring his protests that he was fasting (during Ramzan). The incident was caught on CCTV and debunks the sorry explanations offered including the ultimate boorish comment in the Sena mouthpiece Saamana that no one complains of Muslims committing rape during Ramzan! Are not such gratuitous taunts a criminal offence? And can Parliament turn a blind eye to such gross misconduct by “honourable” members.

It turns out that the Sena MPs had various grievances against the New Maharashtra Sadan, prime among which was that Maharashtrian food was not being served as the Railway caterer had no Maharashtrian cook. The Sadan’s food is subsidised and had these Shiv Sena goons wanted Maharashtrian food they could have gone elsewhere or paid for a Mahatrashtrian cook. Instead they ran amok, indulged in vandalism and caused a religious affront to a catering assistant. Thereafter, the plea taken by the ring leader, Ranjan Vichare, MP for Thane, was that casual irritation over “bad food” was deliberately given a communal cover by the media.

By his own sworn affidavit with the Election Commission, Vichare has 13 criminal cases registered against him from rioting to intimidation. According to one report, another MP shouted “This is India not Pakistan”, a totally irrelevant and gravely provocative statement that speaks to the communal mentality of the Sena. The same upstarts and their sympathisers would have sung another tune, a commentator on TV rightly said, if a piece of beef had been stuffed into the mouth of a Hindu catering assistant.

The Maharashtra Resident Commissioner sent a written apology to the catering assistant, and the Railway catering establishment has terminated its contract with the New Maharashtra Sadan. The country and Parliament were outraged but the Shiv Sena is unapologetic while its ally, the BJP, has sought to defend the indefensible with unctuous nonsense. Advani alone expressed dismay but the Government and Party leadership was silent for days, making absurd excuses.

An immediate apology would have cleared the air and cooled tempers. That was not forthcoming. Instead, Shiv Sena MP, Anandrao Adsul, claimed that like Godhra-2002, the real reason for the violence that followed was being ignored. Uddhav Thackeray, the party’s boss, claimed the uproar was intended to silence his party’s voice!

Such incidents cannot be shushed up or draped in dishonest, self-serving rhetoric. These disgraceful episodes have happened far too often. Mr Modi promised on being elected that he proposed to speak for India. What has he to say?

As if this was not enough, the Telangana BJP has criticised the state government for naming Sania MIrza its brand ambassador. It labelled her a “daughter-in-law of Pakistan” as she is married to the cricketer Shoaib Malik. What a disgusting and totally unwarranted slur on a fine young woman who is thoroughly Indian and has brought laurels to the country. And for Subramanium Swamy, to say that Sania must be suspected of “divided loyalties” after her marriage confirms his status as a clown.

As if this nonsense was not enough, A Goan minister, Dipak Dhavalikar, a member of the BJP”s alliance partner, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Dal, told the State Assembly he was confident Mr Modi would make India a Hindu Rashtra while his brother, also a MGD Minister in the Parrikar cabinet sought a ban on bikinis on Goa’s beaches to the consternation of the Tourism ministry and tour operators. In both cases, the fatuous extenuation offered was that these were personal and not official statements.

To crown matters, last Friday’s Express carried the story that Dina Nath Batra of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, that had got Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism pulped, has now been made compulsory reading in all government schools in Gujarat by the State School Textbook Board with the formal patronage of the Education Minister who released nine of his books on March 4 when Mr Modi was still chief minister.

What do these books say? Tejomay Bharat (Shining India) insists that all maps of India include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma which are all part of Akhand Bharat. It notes that “undivided India is the truth; divided India is a lie” and unnatural and can be united again”. These statements are inimical to Article 19(2) which calls for restrictions on incitement to offence and harming friendly relations with foreign states. Mr Modi is on record as knowing little or no Indian history or geography. Is his illiteracy in these matters now being officially propagated in Gujarat schools?

What has Smiti Irani or Amit Shah or Mr Modi himself to say on this atrocious outpouring of saffron venom. They must answer or stand morally naked and nationally condemned. To recall past Congress sins simply will not wash. Here we have a cascading litany of Hindutva glorification and hate, preceded by similar utterances by members of the Parivar. These constitute a pattern and suggest a sinister design. Many, like this writer, were prepared to give Mr Modi a fair chance to show that he would deliver on his word. That patience is wearing thin.

Justice Markandey Katju’s broadsides on judicial collusion in promoting tainted judges have meanwhile stirred the pot. His case is weakened by his own silence in the matter for almost nine years. His plea that speaking out against a collusive ruling on the part of a chief justice by a sitting judge would militate against “judicial discipline”, is unconvincing. His higher duty was to uphold judicial integrity. His silence enabled what he says was a wrongdoing to go unchallenged and unpunished. The Judge says “better late than never”. To which a distinguished jurist retorted “better sooner than later”. To read a query by the then PM about some letters and notings put up to him as complicity in guilt is also excessive. Let the matter be duly investigated. The Government’s answer is to appoint a National Judicial (Appointments) Commission instead of the Collegium system. Let that Bill be thoroughly debated and a better system than the present be put in place.

Finally, is the Modi government intent on introducing an administrative spoils system in India by insisting that personal office staff of former UPA ministers cannot serve in similar positions in the new regime. First, Governors were shown the door. Now Private Secretaries. Why? Are they meant to be loyalists of the party in power and of individual ministers? Is the civil administration to be ideologically divided? Where are we headed?

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