A Red Blot On A White Kurta

No matter how white it is, if there’s a red blot on it, that’s the first thing people will notice. Or won’t they?

Prime Ministers both, the late Rajeev Gandhi and Narendra Modi have more in common than what meets the eye. For one, both of them were heads of state when organised massacres ravaged the lives of thousands of people belonging to particular ethnic groups.

Rajiv was sworn in as Prime Minister amidst the Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984, incited by Congress leaders as a reaction to the assassination of Indira Gandhi at the hands of her two Sikh bodyguards. Instead of enforcing curfew immediately, Rajiv dilly-dallied. He waited a day longer before allowing the army to act, by which time over three thousand innocent people were murdered. Although reeling from his mother’s death, he acted in the most irresponsible manner, and made the statement that haunts his party to this day –

“When a big tree falls, the Earth shakes”

And then there is Supreme Leader, present Prime Minister and macro-economics whizkid Shri Narendra Modi ji. Following the burning of a train with 58 Hindu Karsevaks in Godhra, Modi ji, then CM of the state, is alleged to have told his officials to not interfere with the angry Hindus on the streets. These rioters ended up murdering two thousand Muslims in Gujarat state. There were also several incidents of rape, immolation and torture. Although he was cleared of all charges, an exposé book by journalist Rana Ayyub contains accounts by officials who were involved providing incriminating evidence against Modi.

Thus, two men who had within their power to save the lives of thousands of people, for reasons best known to them, did not do so.

The historian Ramachandra Guha, in his book India After Gandhi lists this as a similarity between the two incidents.

Both proceeded to take a generalized revenge on the minorities as a whole. The Sikhs who were butchered were in no way connected to the Sikhs who killed Mrs Gandhi. The Muslims who were killed by Hindu mobs were completely innocent of the Godhra crime (which may anyway have been an accident).

The PM of the country (’84) and the CM of Gujarat (’02) issued graceless statements that incited the mob and eventually became justification for the killings. In both cases, the government aided and shielded the rioters.

But perhaps the fact that refuses to leave my mind is this – after this unforgivable bout of state-sponsored terrorism, both leaders reaped rich rewards. Gandhi went on to win the ’84 General Elections with an overwhelming majority. Modi won the 2002 Assembly Elections with a two-thirds majority.

I’ve usually heard a statement that goes something like, ‘You cannot put a price on human life.’ This is 100 per cent false. A stray incident cannot spark communal violence. It has to be first orchestrated using illicit muscle. And illicit muscle must be enraged by a hateful speech. So let’s change that line to suit this occasion. Sometimes, the price of human life is only an insensitive statement.

PS. In the times of Buzzfeed, I thought it bodes well to create a quiz as an aside. So go ahead and take the Rajiv – Modi Insensitivity Quiz here.