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Ghosts do not die

Published Apr 14, 2013 05:10am


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CHECK with the haunted: ghosts do not die. Since this sounds like the ultimate paradox, some explanation is necessary. Ghosts are not happy spirits. A ghost is spectre of justice denied, a moan from beyond the grave, revenge that has survived burial. A ghost does not leave judgement to God; it seeks its target while the assailant is still alive.

Many of those who instigated mobs in the anti-Sikhs riots of 1984 are dead; some have slipped, with age, into decrepitude. Legal justice has been tawdry, because the establishment has protected the guilty.

But there are at least two VIPs who cannot shake off their ghosts despite 29 years of protection and promotion, offered by Congress, which has been in power for 21 of these years. Sajjan Kumar was an MP and would have remained one till now but for an accidental burst of anger by a Sikh journalist in 2009. Jagdish Tytler is a senior Congress leader, with a seat in its highest committee.

The ghost chasing Tytler is relentless. Each time Tytler becomes complacent, it pops up. Tytler has reason to be complacent. It took Indias premier police unit, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) 23 long years to produce its final report for the courts; it concluded that there was no case against Tytler. The court was sceptical.

Two years later, in 2009, CBI repeated its charade, despite the fact that the Nanavati Commission had held Tytler culpable. India, thankfully, is not a police state. A sessions court has again thrown Tytler back into the public limelight.

Tytler behaves likes a split personality when he appears on television to defend himself, half anxious, half smug. His central argument is equivocal: he does not challenge the Nanavati verdict, but adds with a shrug that it is hardly his fault if CBI did not find any evidence. The smirk is almost too much to bear.

What Tytler, his guardians and acolytes do not quite understand is how much India has changed. There are many reasons obviously, but it can be said that one of the catalysts was the Gujarat riots. A cover-up is no longer possible.

In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi read out a speech written by an over-smart bureaucrat justifying the violence with the metaphor that when the earth shakes, a banyan or two is bound to tremble. No one would suggest this today.

The Gujarat riots have been followed by unprecedented media investigation, and judicial scrutiny supervised by the Supreme Court. VIP politicians are in jail. The process is exhausting and exhaustive, but it will separate the guilty from those who were not directly responsible.

No politician ever went to jail for riots before Gujarat; in fact, hardly anyone went to jail at all. Take a count of major incidents in the last five decades: Jamshedpur in 1964, Ranchi in 1967; Ahmedabad in 1969, when some 2,000 died; Nellie in Assam in 1983, where 5,000 Muslims were estimated to have been killed (I shall never forget the rows of dead babies I saw when I went to report that story).

Hiteshwar Saikia of Congress was chief minister of Assam then, and Mrs Indira Gandhi prime minister. No one demanded his resignation. Instead, Saikia was often lauded as an astute political craftsman.

In 1989 came Bhagalpur, when over a thousand died. Let alone Congress chief minister Bhagwat Jha Azad being held responsible, even the police chief was not shifted. Sudhakar Rao Naik was chief minister of Maharashtra during the three months of riots in Mumbai following Babri in 1992-93; the guilty named in the Srikrishna report have been left free. Narasimha Rao was prime minister then. It is a depressing list.

Public accountability, spurred by popular will, is principally responsible for the reduction in the scale and frequency of riots. Politicians may be worried about courts, but they are terrified by voters. The mood of the country has changed visibly. The young, who are in the forefront of this change, want to leave the past behind; for them governance is measured in economic growth and jobs.

It is self-evident that violence and development cannot coexist. Investment in Gujarat will shrink if there is another riot. The young want to vote for jobs, not for the problems of 1947.

If you want to predict election results, an astrologer may still be of some use; but it is far more useful to look at unemployment figures, followed closely by an examination of corruption levels. Voters resent corruption because it is theft; what makes them apoplectic is that it is theft of their money, or the nation’s resources. A nation belongs to the voter, not to a government. Governments are only temporary custodians.

There is no truth about politics, which is totally true. But that which is largely true determines the fate of elections. Caste and creed have not disappeared, but pillars of the old life are fading as another new age begins to rise on the Indian landscape. And when they are finally buried, they will not beget any ghosts.

The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

kris Apr 14, 2013 04:18am
M J is an unbiased journalist. Modi has been scrutinized by every investigtional bodies, but couldn't find much. Still I think he should have been remorseful since riot happened in his rule.
anil Apr 14, 2013 08:27am
Mr.Akbar is absolutely right. We don't want violence and hatred , we only want development . Only modern and logic based education can bring brainwashed and religious-intolerant people back to right path . Conservative mindset and hate-spreading sermons shouldn't be allowed in society .
Neptune Srimal Apr 14, 2013 10:28am
Rajiv Said that when a banyan tree falls, the earth shakes. Thebanyan tree in this case was Indira Gandhi and the shake was the riot afterwards.
R.Kannan Apr 14, 2013 11:31am
Akbar is only partially correct in his assessment. The earlier riots had the Congress in power at the centre. In 2002, The BJP was in power but in the 2004 election results meant that the Congress returned to power. The Congress had identified BJP and Modi as its biggest threat and has gone hammer and tongs after Modi. However, the only convictions in the Gujarat riots have taken place in Gujarat. The court process has not been helped by the wild allegations of people like Teesta Setalvad, who had to be castigated by the courts but whose wild statements were lapped up by the media. Laloo Yadav, as Railway Minister, appointed a Banerjee Commission to study the Godhra incident and this commission shamelessly made a pathetically false conclusion. I am not trying to justify the riots but the media, and writers like Akbar, are often one sided in their reports and comments. A little balance will help.
Raj Apr 14, 2013 01:42pm
As usual, MJAkbar is always worth reading.
rohan Apr 14, 2013 02:13pm
those young, who are in the forefront of this change in India, want to leave the past behind, are not belong to muslim community. That is the weak point of this change
Amit Srivastava Apr 14, 2013 02:56pm
Well, Mr. Akbar needs to be data-conscious. This is not about the past but about the future. Indian youths disgusted with the present state of India? Why, are they not part of the system? Today, they are young, tomorrow they will become older as is the case with present bunch of politicians. What does Mr. Akbar suggest to his fellow nationals? The data he cites are mostly against the Congress Party barring few incidents. But still, I don't believe that he would ever vote against Congress. If people don't vote for the Congress Party and the BJP which parties should they vote for? Can regional parties together make up the majority? The answer is no. And if they form the government at the Center and also that a communal riot does not occur during their administration, won't their lackluster governance affect the economic future of India? The argument is not whether Congress Party is better or the BJP, the point is that after so much campaigning against the Congress Party, Mr. Akbar would either not vote or vote for the Party. If he votes for the Left living in the North, I seek apology from him.
Nabarun Dey Apr 14, 2013 03:48pm
Hope MJA is not watching lot of horror movies these days. However his unique way to jibe at others in a language that certainly no ghost can ever claim as their own is simply awesome ! Ghosts do not die...ghosts does not leave judgement to God..A nation belongs to the voter,not to Government... are beautiful expressions indeed. However MJA may have faltered to read the young voter's mind.
Dr Hemant Junnarkar Apr 14, 2013 05:08pm
When a person has no place in politics, column writing is a good occupation. When Rajiv Gandhi was at peak, I have always read Mr M.J.Akbar's articles flattering Rajiv Gandhi.
arvind Apr 14, 2013 05:17pm
It is a good article but he should have covered incidences of Pakistan and Bangladesh also. The communal people of all countries must be condemned. The 1964 problem at Jamshedpur occurred after injured/ and kids reached from riot affected Bangladesh.
P N Eswaran Apr 14, 2013 06:06pm
"Investment in Gujarat will shrink if there is another riot. " Mr Akbar, did the investment shrink after post-Godhra riots of 2002? Mr. Modi has made mobilization of vote banks irrelevant. The Muslims and their panderers have realized the shifting paradigm of Indian politics. Integrity and competence is an antidote to vote bank appeasement. "The young want to vote for jobs, not for the problems of 1947." Yes but you cannot get jobs with the mindset that went into the making of the 'problem of 1947'.
Mohit Apr 15, 2013 06:05am
Anil Jee "Conservative mindset and hate-spreading sermons SHOULDN`T BE ALLOWED in society " the idea that creates talibans please refrain.