From abusing Gandhi to advocating genocide

by Alishan Jafri , Neel Madhav and Apoorvanand

 Dharm Sansad Haridwar

The arrest of the foul mouthed Kalicharan is seen as a very courageous step taken by the Chhatisgarh government.

Kalicharan, a self-styled Hindu saint was booked by the state police after he made abusive remarks against Mahatma Gandhi at a Dharma Sansad held at Raipur. The meet was called to discuss ways to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra.

It was natural that the impediments in the path of Hindu Rashtra were thought fit for abuse and even elimination. Since Gandhi was eliminated for this very crime 75 years back, he could only be abused. He was seen as the biggest obstruction in the path to reach Hindu Rashtra by the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha leaders. Nathuram Godse, the disciple of VD Savarkar murdered Gandhi on their behalf claiming it as his lone decision.

But the assassination of Gandhi failed to remove him from the Indian mind. His appeal in fact grew after his death. That had to destroyed anyhow. So, for the last 75 years in the RSS shakhas and elsewhere a vilification campaign against him has been going on. The approach of the RSS people with regard to Gandhi has been dubious. They have his name in their pantheon of the greats but all of them hate him from their core of hearts and justify his murder.

Gandhi however, remains the greatest icon of India and any disregard or insult to him is seen as an act of blasphemy by many.

So, when Kalicharan, the Hindu saint expressed what is best said privately, it created an uproar and the state government reacted sharply. It asserted that he would have to pay a price for this crime. A criminal case was registered against him and the CG police pursued and caught him in Madhya Pradesh.

It was demonstrated as a proof of the secular resolve of the CG government. The BJP leaders in MP and CG have come out against the arrest, Their argument is very interesting and is yet another evidence of their dubious character. They say that the Congress government is acting against Gandhian principles by arresting him as Gandhi himself would have pardoned him. Some Gandhians also said that Gandhi would not have liked Kalicharan to be arrested.

They are right to a great extent. Gandhi never wanted punishment for those who attacked him physically. In South Africa, he was badly assaulted by Mir Alam, his client. But he did not want him to be punished. Similarly, in 1944, a man rushed to him with a dagger in hand. He was apprehended but Gandhi refused to hand over him to the police. He invited the potential killer to spend a week with him to understand his viewpoint. The man refused. He was allowed to go. The man was Nathuram Godse. He returned to finally murder Gandhi.

The magnanimity of Gandhi did not lead to a change in the heart of Godse and his mentors. They remained murderers. But it is ironic to see those who destroyed Gandhi physically and seek to destroy Gandhi’s values tell us that, while they follow their ideology of hate and murder, Gandhians should not deviate from their path of unconditional forgiveness. In short they should be allowed to remain free to spread the culture of hate and violence – they will continue to be Godses and everyone else should continue to be Gandhis.

But they are wrong about Gandhi. He could and did pardon those who attacked him physically but attack on Muslims and minorities remained a crime in his eyes for which the criminal must face punishment. In 1947 when Muslims were being attacked in Delhi, he had said that there was no question of a policy of pardon for the attackers. The law must act, he had said.

It is however a sad reality that 75 years after the murder of the man who was arguing for justice for the Muslims of India, violence and hate against Muslims are not seen as a crime serious enough to warrant action from the constitutional authorities. Political parties see anti-Muslim hatred as a valid viewpoint and violence against them as an understandable reaction of the Hindus to the sense of accumulated humiliation at the hands of Mughals and other Muslim rulers. They do not generally react to the call for attack on Muslims with the same alacrity as the CG government did in the case of abuses against Mahatma Gandhi.

Since the Mahatma is abused precisely for his steadfast support for the rights of Muslims in a predominantly Hindu India and his refusal to let India become a Hindu Rashtra, abuses against him have to necessarily come with attacks on Muslims. It helps secular parties. They can now criticise anti-Muslim hatred as they have Gandhi as a cover. How can those who insult Gandhi be allowed to remain free!

Suppose there was only a genocidal call against Muslims and Christians and Gandhi was spared, what will happen then? This is what we saw after the Haridwar Dharma Sansad. Civil society was outraged after the videos from the congregation emerged in which so-called Hindu saints were seen making open calls for total elimination of Muslims and Christians. Most of the secular parties have not reacted as yet officially. The Congress and the left parties did react but it was not their natural political reflex.

One has to understand that the last seven years of BJP rule in many states and in the union of India with absolute majority have now taken anti-Muslim violence to a qualitatively different level.

For a very long time and even now, the violence against Muslims was justified as a response to terrorism, their being pro-Pakistan, etc. But now the latest Hindutva grievance against Muslims in India is that they still have a right to life guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. They are asking for a full-blown genocide now. One could simply discard this as an extremist demand which the Indian government can never fulfil.

However, we have seen the mobs’ wishes being accepted each time after such confrontations. It started with campaigns against food habits, lynching in the name of saving cows, vigilantism to save Hindu women from Muslim men. This street violence was followed by discriminatory laws which restricted the civil rights of Muslims. Laws criminalising  their food habit, their right to love, own properties, their right to livelihood were enacted in states after states and by the parliament.

Every time a violent street campaign is made, many well-meaning Hindus find this a distraction from the real issues like the price of petrol and economy. But Muslims don’t have that privilege, they’re seeing their country and dignity being robbed from them. They cannot not see their humiliation and demonization as a temporary phenomenon which will pass once elections are over. Now it has become the most permanent thing in India.

It’s been over 12 days since the explicit calls for mass killing of the Muslim community were made at the ‘Dharma’ Sansad in Haridwar by prominent religious clerics of the Hindu faith. As of now, the police and state look helpless to make arrests. The police are seen laughing with the perpetrators and the state’s CM is seen touching their feet.

It’s not that open calls for murder of Muslims are new to India but this time around it’s far more explicit and heinous. On as many as 5 occasions, including the mahapanchayats in Haryana or the hate rally at Jantar Mantar, thousands of people committed to the ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have called for the mass murder of Muslims. The difference between any of these events and the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar is easy to point out: There were namesake arrests in earlier cases, and the perpetrators tried to distance themselves from their statements after public flak. This time the participant Hindu saints have not tried to disown their genocidal calls. They have repeated them.

Since all these Hindu saints belong to the eco-system of the BJP and RSS, which still operate in a state  bound by secular constitutional norms, such an open and crude mass murder call should have embarrassed them. Instead the  BJP has even this time, shrugged it off. The top leadership has maintained a studied silence which is seen as an endorsement by its constituents.

To address the supporters of the BJP who are not from its ideological camp, another strategy is being adopted. Many BJP supporters have tried to paint the statements as a conspiracy of the opposition  to defame the BJP. But there is no evidence from the BJP or RSS to show that they have distanced themselves from the Hindu saints asking Hindus to slaughter Muslims.

In the face of these growing threats, it is important for the world to stand up. Indians and Hindus in particular, need to push back against these genocidal thoughts. Even if they don’t, Muslims cannot wait and maintain strategic silence. Even those who have agreed to criticise and condemn the violence, do it, without acknowledging its nature. They call it everything but violence against Muslims.

“These videos from Haridwar have shamed 133 crore India,” “I am sorry as an Indian,” “What damage would this madness do to India’s image,” “They cannot be saints,” “it is a win-win situation for the BJP” “ignore the fringe” and “we won’t tolerate such comments against Mahatma Gandhi,” “this is not an attack on Muslims, it’s just an attempt to defame Hindus” “we are so hopeless”: these are some of the reactions which troubles the resistance against fascism in India.

There are again well-meaning people who think that if we talk about the hate campaign it would only help the BJP. It is important to understand that when the Dharm Sansad polarisation argument is rationalised as a win-win situation for the BJP, the political opposition is left with no option but to keep silent. The logic that the opposition would lose Hindu votes if it tries to offer a fresh ideological counter to the communal forces, is flawed at two levels: First, the political parties have been too scared to talk against Muslim hatred anyway yet that has not helped their cause electorally. Second, we saw leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav fight the BJP on purely ideological lines and defeat them quite a few times. One may argue that there are other parties that have managed to succeed without playing into the BJP’s plot.

Hindus are being deprived of information and ideological tools to resist anti-Muslim hatred and violence. Their compassion has been blunted. This madness of Muslim hatred is not going to succumb to its own contradictions. It needs to be actively resisted.

The ideological fight against BJP will start from calling out their genocidal plans for Muslims and standing up on behalf of Muslims and Christians . Until political parties take a stand and communicate it to their rank and file, there will be no motivation for their leaders and supporters to intervene and speak up.

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