Monday, October 29, 2007

TEHELKA UNEARTHS A PRIME MINISTER

In olden days, when kings and emperors ruled India, varying and intricate structures and channels were used to receive regular feedback about the health of the subjects, officials and enemies of the state. Yet, the one method which was invariably employed by all kings was that of direct feedback. Frequently, kings would travel incognito to various parts of their kingdom to get the real, authentic, unfiltered and unfettered pulse of the people in the course of their normal lives. Needless to add that these visits were often critical in ensuring the well being, even survival of their kingdoms.

In the India of today, most of our rulers and leaders have almost forgotten the value of such direct contact with ordinary people. Some have even lost the ability to communicate and mingle with the masses and touch their hearts and minds. The focus seems to be on often a grotesquely vulgar display of ‘leadership’ through pompous motorcades and heavy posses of gun totting guards, designed to generate ‘shock and awe’, rather than fond respect and love among ordinary citizens.

Because of this disconnect with the people, our leaders have become critically dependent on even more disconnected advisors and pliant organs of state, to decide on political strategies to win the next election at any cost. After the opening up of the media, some media moghuls have also become an inseparable part of this phenomenon, adding their bit of motivated advice and analysis from the comfort of their homes, which are even farther away from the dust and dirt of the real India which votes.

Can anyone recall the last time a national leader traveled by train to a distant corner of India or lived among ordinary people?

In this battleground of increasingly and often destructively competitive politics, people seem to have been forgotten. The focus is now almost completely on attracting votes by trying to expose political opponents in the hope that a small but critically decisive number of voters will be compelled to vote for you out of the timely disenchantment that has been created against the opponents.

The recent Tehelka expose on the riots in Gujarat in 2002, just before the impending elections there, has all the elements of a politically initiated program of winning the next elections by using such a disruptive strategy. Many believe that the timing and content of the expose, and its foreknowledge by many Congress leaders, suggests that this sting was a party job to defeat the BJP, perceived as the principal political threat.

Some great SWOT analysis has gone into preparing this strategy in the rarified comfort of Delhi. Where this SWOT analysis has gone horribly wrong is that the real target of this analysis, the Indian on the street has been kept firmly out of the loop. The main reason, as has been stated above, is that our leaders are just ordinary politicians who want to rule but have forgotten to be leaders, or are not capable of becoming real leaders.

The Tehelka tapes have shown some disturbing footage of people boasting and saying many horrific things, not knowing that they were speaking to a hidden camera. This is causing a great deal of outrage in the media, and in some NGOs always on the lookout for an issue to remain in the limelight. A number of columns are being written by famously sponsored writers, asking for Narendra Modi’s head, by calling him a criminal, a butcher of Muslims etc. The Congress leadership in Delhi is also perhaps gloating that finally they have ‘got him’.

What do the people on the street think? Is what has been shown on Tehelka any less horrifying than what happened during the anti Sikh riots, particularly in Delhi, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, when thousands of Sikhs were, burnt, lynched and mercilessly butchered by ordinary citizens, right in the capital of India? Weren’t then many Congress leaders, instigated by the top leadership of the party, at the forefront of the mass massacres?

The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, whose mother had fallen to bullets, had even publicly defended what had happened saying,” When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake”.

What he would have felt, expected and said privately at the death of his mother in the heat of those tragic moments would perhaps have been even more inflammatory than what Modi has been quoted as saying by some people after the Godhra incident. Does it require anything except dishonesty to also know that had those involved in the 1984 riots been caught on hidden cameras, they would have sounded equally, if not more, belligerent, boastful and unrepentant of what they had done during those few days of mass frenzy?

The nation as a whole, including the Sikhs, over time has shown great wisdom by realizing that what had turned sane, ordinary men into killers then were circumstances, and an irrational and emotive mass response, beyond which the nation had to move on. Of course, every one knows that Congress leaders who led the massacres have been shielded and rewarded till now, to the extent that Dr Manmohan Singh even inducted one of the publicly known prime accused as a minister in his cabinet. Of course, he was symbolically asked to resign subsequently because an inquiry finally blamed him after more than two decades.

Assuming that Godhra was orchestrated by fundamentalists, what is it that they would have been saying to each other while planning and executing that horrific mass burning, which sparked off the equally condemnable reaction? What do you think terrorists are being told by their tutors, or what their supporters and sympathizers, including unexposed mainstream politicians, are saying privately among themselves?

The public knows all this better than politicians, who sometimes, even when they know, pretend not to. People, like in 1984, also always knew what the tapes have shown. They are not outraged, as the laptop analysts had thought they would be.

On the contrary, the expose has effectively nailed a couple of theories which were being propagated by some dim wits pretending to be clever. The Hindutva brigade of Gujarat had clearly not pre-planned any riots before the Godhra incident took place. Godhra was not orchestrated by Hindus to incite riots.

Tehelka has unwittingly established beyond any doubt that the Hindus of Gujarat truly believed that the railway coach full of Hindu pilgrims was set ablaze by Muslim fundamentalists, killing all those who were inside.

The mass reaction in Gujarat to the killing of innocent pilgrims was, thus, no different from the mass reaction that gripped Delhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. To the ordinary Indian, you can’t say, “Genocide is fine if my mom is killed; it is heinous if faceless Indians are!”

Tehelka has, tragically for those who conceived and executed the sting, achieved the exact opposite of what it wanted to. It has effectively killed the strong rebellion that was building up against Modi within the BJP in Gujarat, and taken the wind out of the sails of the Congress party there, now more afraid than ever to criticize him for fear of facing a disastrous electoral defeat.

How did the SWOT analysts of the Congress and their media friends completely forget that Rajiv Gandhi had won a mammoth majority in Parliament immediately after the riots in Delhi? Did not almost the whole of India feel then that the insanity, encouraged by the Prime Minister, which led to the killing of more than a thousand Sikhs, was to them an expression of a fair instant mass justice demanded by circumstance?

Rajiv Gandhi, despite that massive mandate, lost in the next elections, primarily because he could not provide the kind of governance that people expected from him. Similarly, the BJP, after the high of the Ram Janambhoomi Babri Masjid issue, was not able to make further headway, because its claim of being a party with a difference took a knock with a poor record of governance, which enabled regional parties to emerge stronger than ever before.


Narendra Modi, on the other hand, has not been shaken from power simply because he is personally honest and has ceaselessly worked for the economic development of
Gujarat and its people. It is in fact one of the wonders of the political landscape of India that not even his worst detractors, minutely dissecting his every twitch, have been able to lay a finger on his performance, when almost everywhere else, all sorts of muck is surfacing with disturbing regularity.

By raking up the riots in Gujarat now, all that the think tank behind Tehelka has achieved is refreshing the memories of the hurt, the anger, the divide, the fear and the insanity which had gripped Gujarat in 2002.

The need of the hour, a national responsibility, is the repair and healing of communal relations, not reopening of old wounds. Will, for example, any useful purpose be served by doing a similar sting operation on the 1984 riots? But, to some of our politicians, no cost seems to be too great for the satiation of their lust for power. The ordinary, forgotten Indian understands these sordid games.

That the flame lit by Tehelka, instead of burning Modi, has made him almost invincible in Gujarat is clear to all except perhaps those cocooned in Delhi. What it may well have done nationally for the BJP has perhaps not yet been fully comprehended.

Tehelka, ironically, may also have provided the party with an almost unbeatable Prime Ministerial candidate for the forthcoming general elections.