Amitav Ghosh’s essay “The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi” was first published in The New Yorker on 17th July 1995. It was reproduced in his volume of “prose pieces” titled “The Imam and the Indian” in 2002. The essay was drawn on Ghosh’s personal experience with organized communal violence in the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards on 31st October, 1984. Ghosh recounts his journey, that fateful day, with a friend, by bus, from the University campus in Delhi to the friend’s house in Safdarjang Enclave. The mindless violence unleashed upon a hapless Sikh community, organized and led by thugs and goons belonging to the Congress Party, has been vividly narrated by Ghosh in this essay. Ghosh was then already an established writer. His first book, “The Circle of Reason” had been warmly received and readers like me were awaiting the publication of his subsequent works.
Ghosh writes that the experience of those few days in 1984 inevitably influenced his writing but it was not until 1995, eleven years after the event that he could sufficiently detach himself from the immediacy of the violence to be able to write objectively about it. Instead, he began work on his second novel, “The Shadow Lines”- a book that “led him backward in time to earlier memories of riots, ones witnessed in childhood. It became a book not about any one event but about the meaning of such events and their effects on the individuals who live through them.”
Ghosh writes glowingly about the small group of citizens who formed the Nagarik Ekta Manch, or Citizens’ Unity Front, and immediately set to the task of providing relief to the injured and shelter to the homeless. The Front also conducted its own investigation of the riots and produced a slim pamphlet entitled “Who are the Guilty?” It is “a searing indictment of the politicians who encouraged the riots and the police who allowed the rioters to have their way.” While lamenting that no instigator of the riots had been charged till the day of his writing, Ghosh believed that the pressure on the government had not been relaxed and that the “nails hammered by that slim document dig just a little deeper.”
The nails that Ghosh writes about have all but rusted and the hammers have long been abandoned. Twenty nine years later, the situation today remains the same; the perpetrators of the violence continue to be at large, and it is the slim pamphlet that gathers dust and is being eaten by silverfish. The compulsions of vote-bank politics, first invented by the Congress and now perfected by the other so-called “secular” parties, have created an atmosphere where violence is only a moment away; where private armies of goons and thugs are maintained by politicians to be unleashed upon a hapless and largely unprotected civil population. Eric Hobsbawm’s observation that while only 5% of those who died in the first World War were civilians, the numbers increased to 66% in the Second, validates his argument that in the post-cold-war era the burden of conflict has shifted increasingly from armed forces to civilians.
The violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the conflagration in Godhra, and hundreds of such incidents, has continued to scar the landscape of our country. Muzaffarnagar is the latest addition to this catalogue of ghoulish dances of death. But, unfortunately, public space is occupied by the same people who instigate the violence and who have a complicit media to deflect public opinion away from them. While most common people react to organized violence with repugnance and try to oppose it in whichever way they can, yet there is hardly any mention of it in public debate in print and visual media. Most of the news anchors and columnists are busy in self-promotion and push their own or their masters’ agendas.
In a cynical atmosphere that currently exists due to the complete failure of the UPA government on all fronts, and the abysmal depths of moral depravity to which Manmohan Singh has allowed the nation to fall, the voices of eminent writers like U. R. Ananthamurthy and Amitav Ghosh should have been the soothing balm needed by raw and open wounds. Instead, these two have further added to the cynicism by their sweeping and unsubstantiated statements against the nomination of Narendra Modi as the political leader of the BJP. One is not dismayed when known anarchists like Arundhati Roy and Amartya Sen say similar things. We do not expect anything else from them. Nor do we expect objective reporting from columnists like Vidya Subramaniam of The Hindu, Jyoti Punwani, or Sabah Naqvi, a member of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council (NAC). All of them have a personal agenda that we can only guess at. In his essay Ghosh had written that “writers do not join crowds – Naipaul and so many others teach us that.” But having stayed away for so long, it comes as a surprise that Ghosh has decided to join crowds and add to the cacophony of the narrative of the anarchists. Ananthamurthy’s “Samskara” and Ghosh’s “The Shadow Lines” are uncompromising critiques of prejudice based on religion, caste and colour. That these two should themselves fall prey to a prejudicial orchestra conducted by the chief perpetrators of violence in India and make statements of note without having equipped themselves with the details of the violence that occurred in Gujarat after the burning of the train in Godhra, comes as a major disappointment to the legion of their admirers.
In 2004, just before the general elections that brought UPA to power, Narendra Modi had given a detailed interview to Shekhar Gupta, the editor of The Indian Express that was televised on NDTV in its program, “Walk the Talk.” In a freewheeling, candid discussion, Modi admitted that the riots took place when he was in power, and that he could not detach himself from them. Nine years later, The Indian Express has brought out the complete interview in its edition dated 17th September, 2013.
For those who keep repeating that Modi has no regrets for the violence of Godhra, they should read this interview to the end and then make judgments. Isn’t it true that Modi has not interfered with the process of law that has been initiated to fix responsibility for the riots? Have not senior political leaders been sentenced to various penalties, including the death penalty? Can Amitav Ghosh name one person of consequence who has been punished for 1984? When writers like Ananthamurthy and Ghosh make such irresponsible statements, they provide fodder for bloggers like Naim Naqvi and Sameer Khan to give a special kind of communal slant to their writings.
Aam Aadmi Party apart, Narendra Modi today is the only politician who puts the country before self. I have not heard him distinguish between a Hindu India and a non-Hindu India. These terms are attributed to him by the communal politicians of the Congress variety, and their hangers-on in the media. He is continuously speaking about an inclusive India where no group or sect receives any special favors. It remains to be seen if he can break the hold of the power-brokers and vested interests who still wield considerable influence within his party. But if there is one man who can do so, it is him; and that is why there is such a tremendous groundswell of support for him among the common people. We have seen the destruction that the Congress and the so-called “secular” parties have wreaked upon the nation. Should we not give a chance to this man who can rightfully claim that he has led his state from that long night of darkness in 2002 to the present day Gujarat where the dream of the first Prime Minister of free India has largely been realized?
By Vijaya Dar