Prime Minister aspirant and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is fond of quoting Swami Vivekananda. Here’s a tweet early today from @narendramodi "Let people praise you or blame you...see that you do not deviate from the path of truth"
For an astute and ambitious man, well-studied in puritan ideological, intellectual and moral schools throughout his life, Modi would know what the truth of Gujarat 2002 carnage is, and why it hurts.
That truth is on many thousand faces that saw the beast in man ten years ago; that truth is in the pain still raw in the lives of those who survived the horror, on both sides of the communal divide; that truth is in the warped lives of children who grew up in the last ten years; that truth is in the testimonies of hundreds who dared to speak to judicial commissions and special investigation teams; that truth is in the walls, visible and others, between Gujaratis; that truth is in the many stories of break-down of law and order then that cannot be wiped out by recent “development” in the state.
That truth is around Modi; he refuses to acknowledge it.
It’s not very different from the steadfast refusal of other perpetrators or state administrators – many of whom had taken oath to maintain law and order – to acknowledge their acts of omission and commission. Be it the Thackerays who in 1992-93 proudly torched the very metropolis they claimed to love, or the late Sudhakarrao Naik, then chief minister of Maharashtra who fiddled while “Bombay burned”.
Or the ultra-loyal army of Congressmen who unleashed murder and mayhem in New Delhi in 1984, the HKL Bhagats, Sajjan Kumars et all, and the first family of the party that could have reined them in if they wished.
Or all those who allowed Bhagalpur, Moradabad, Meerut, Hyderabad, Nellie to become theatres of death orchestrated by a mutually beneficial mix of political leaders with non-bonafide intent and lumpen elements of those societies.
The truth is that victims and survivors of communal carnages, across decades and cities, have not been allowed to forget, to “put the past behind” them as pundits and non-victims so blithely and regularly suggest, to see the fabric of their lives repaired. What would it take? What do they really ask for?
That those who took the oath say “I erred”; “I failed” to maintain law and order that I should have;
That those had sworn on God or the Constitution to protect all citizens admit their blunder in choosing to protect only a few;
That those who had power over public life own up to their mis-calculations or mis-deeds, or both;
That they express regret and reach out to those pained;
That they understand the pain, empathise with those pained, and know that healing cannot happen without justice;
That they ensure justice is done to victims and survivors by bringing the law to prevail over those who had been allowed to loot and rape and murder;
That they appreciate that justice calls for truth and is a pre-requisite to reconciliation.
Modi – and his obliging supporters – can point fingers at the others, as they have for years; others who allowed other carnages to happen. It’s a political game that completely refuses to address the victims and survivors of the tragedy. Or Modi could start a new narrative by expressing regret for what happened, apologizing for acts of omission and commission ten years ago, and setting the standard for others of his ilk.
Modi isn’t too fond of archbishops and maulvis but, alongside his daily diet of Swami Vivekananda, he might like to ponder over what Archbishop Desmond Tutu had said two decades ago as an unimaginably racially divided South Africa debated the need for Truth and Reconciliation Commission; to paraphrase, “..they (the white supremacists) must make a clean breast of what they did…”
Those who argue that this would mean “re-opening old wounds” must know that such discussions make sense to those of us untouched by the horror of those carnages; for those who suffered and saw the madness, the wounds are still festering; they need to be acknowledged, addressed and healed.
The truth is Modi has, so far, chosen to ignore the wounds and acknowledge the wounded.
In this context, Swami Vivekananda’s words he chose to tweet today are, indeed, very powerful: "...see that you do not deviate from the path of truth".