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Authors: Arundhati Roy

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BOOK: The End of Imagination
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Some madrassas, the Muslim equivalent of hothouses cultivating religious hatred, try and make up in frenzy and foreign funding what they lack in state support. They provide the perfect foil for Hindu communalists to dance their dance of mass paranoia and hatred. (In fact, they serve that purpose so perfectly they might just as well be working as a team.)

Under this relentless pressure, what will most likely happen is that the majority of the Muslim community will resign itself to living in ghettos as second-class citizens, in constant fear, with no civil rights and no recourse to justice. What will daily life be like for them? Any little thing, an altercation in a cinema queue or a fracas at a traffic light, could turn lethal. So they will learn to keep very quiet, to accept their lot, to creep around the edges of the society in which they live. Their fear will transmit itself to other minorities. Many, particularly the young, will probably turn to militancy. They will do terrible things. Civil society will be called upon to condemn them. Then President Bush’s canon will come back to us: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
33

Those words hang frozen in time like icicles. For years to come, butchers and genocidists will fit their grisly mouths around them (“lip-sync,” filmmakers call it) in order to justify their butchery.

Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena, who has lately been feeling a little upstaged by Modi, has the lasting solution. He’s called for civil war. Isn’t that just perfect? Then Pakistan won’t need to bomb us, we can bomb ourselves. Let’s turn all of India into Kashmir. Or Bosnia. Or Palestine. Or Rwanda. Let’s all suffer forever. Let’s buy expensive guns and explosives to kill each other with. Let the British arms dealers and the American weapons manufacturers grow fat on our spilled blood.
34
We could ask the Carlyle Group—of which the Bush and bin Laden families were both shareholders—for a bulk discount.
35
Maybe if things go really well, we’ll become like Afghanistan. (And look at the publicity they’ve gone and got themselves.) When all our farmlands are mined, our buildings destroyed, our infrastructure reduced to rubble, our children physically maimed and mentally wrecked, when we’ve nearly wiped ourselves out with self-manufactured hatred, maybe we can appeal to the Americans to help us out. Airdropped airline meals, anyone?

How close we have come to self-destruction! Another step and we’ll be in free fall. And yet the government presses on. At the Goa meeting of the BJP’s national executive, the Prime Minister of secular, democratic India, A. B. Vajpayee, made history. He became the first Indian Prime Minister to cross the threshold and publicly unveil an unconscionable bigotry against Muslims, which even George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld would be embarrassed to own up to. “Wherever Muslims are,” he said, “they do not want to live peacefully.”
36

Shame on him. But if only it were just him: in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat holocaust, confident of the success of its “experiment,” the BJP wants a snap poll. “The
gentlest
of people,” my friend from Baroda said to me, “the
gentlest
of people, in the gentlest of voices, says ‘Modi is our hero.’”

Some of us nurtured the naive hope that the magnitude of the horror of the last few weeks would make the secular parties, however self-serving, unite in sheer outrage. On its own, the BJP does not have the mandate of the people of India. It does not have the mandate to push through the Hindutva project. We hoped that the twenty-two allies that make up the BJP-led coalition would withdraw their support. We thought, quite stupidly, that they would see that there could be no bigger test of their moral fiber, of their commitment to their avowed principles of secularism.

It’s a sign of the times that not a single one of the BJP’s allies has withdrawn support. In every shifty eye you see that faraway look of someone doing mental math to calculate which constituencies and portfolios they’ll retain and which ones they’ll lose if they pull out. Deepak Parekh is one of the only CEOs of India’s corporate community to condemn what happened.
37
Farooq Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and the only prominent Muslim politician left in India, is currying favor with the government by supporting Modi because he nurses the dim hope that he might become Vice President of India very soon.
38
And worst of all, Mayawati, leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the People’s Socialist Party, the great hope of the lower castes, has forged an alliance with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
39

The Congress and the Left parties have launched a public agitation asking for Modi’s resignation.
40
Resignation
?
Have we lost all sense of proportion? Criminals are not meant to
resign
. They’re meant to be charged, tried, and convicted. As those who burned the train in Godhra should be. As the mobs and those members of the police force and the administration who planned and participated in the pogrom in the rest of Gujarat should be. As those responsible for raising the pitch of the frenzy to boiling point must be. The Supreme Court has the option of acting against Modi and the Bajrang Dal and the VHP. There are hundreds of testimonies. There are masses of evidence.

But in India if you are a butcher or a genocidist who happens to be a politician, you have every reason to be optimistic. No one even
expects
politicians to be prosecuted. To demand that Modi and his henchmen be arraigned and put away would make other politicians vulnerable to their own unsavory pasts. So instead they disrupt Parliament, shout a lot. Eventually those in power set up commissions of inquiry, ignore the findings, and between themselves makes sure the juggernaut chugs on.

Already the issue has begun to morph. Should elections be allowed or not? Should the Election Commission decide that? Or the Supreme Court? Either way, whether elections are held or deferred, by allowing Modi to walk free, by allowing him to continue with his career as a politician, the fundamental, governing principles of democracy are not just being subverted but deliberately sabotaged. This kind of democracy is the
problem
, not the solution. Our society’s greatest strength is being turned into her deadliest enemy. What’s the point of us all going on about “deepening democracy,” when it’s being bent and twisted into something unrecognizable?

What if the BJP
does
win the elections? After all, George Bush had a 60 percent rating in his War Against Terror, and Ariel Sharon has an even stronger mandate for his bestial invasion of Palestine.
41
Does that make everything all right? Why not dispense with the legal system, the constitution, the press—the whole shebang—morality
itself
, why not chuck it and put everything up for a vote? Genocides can become the subject of opinion polls, and massacres can have marketing campaigns.

Fascism’s firm footprint has appeared in India. Let’s mark the date: Spring 2002. While we can thank the American President and the Coalition Against Terror for creating a congenial international atmosphere for fascism’s ghastly debut, we cannot credit them for the years it has been brewing in our public and private lives.

It breezed in after the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998.
42
From then onward, the massed energy of bloodthirsty patriotism became openly acceptable political currency. The “weapons of peace” trapped India and Pakistan in a spiral of brinkmanship—threat and counter-threat, taunt and counter-taunt.
43
And now, one war and hundreds of dead later,
44
more than a million soldiers from both armies are massed at the border, eyeball to eyeball, locked in a pointless nuclear standoff. The escalating belligerence against Pakistan has ricocheted off the border and entered our own body politic, like a sharp blade slicing through the vestiges of communal harmony and tolerance between the Hindu and Muslim communities. In no time at all, the god-squadders from hell have colonized the public imagination. And we allowed them in. Each time the hostility between India and Pakistan is cranked up, within India there’s a corresponding increase in the hostility toward the Muslims. With each battle cry against Pakistan, we inflict a wound on ourselves, on our way of life, on our spectacularly diverse and ancient civilization, on everything that makes India different from Pakistan. Increasingly, Indian nationalism has come to mean Hindu nationalism, which defines itself not through a respect or regard for itself but through a hatred of the Other. And the Other, for the moment, is not just Pakistan, it’s Muslims. It’s disturbing to see how neatly nationalism dovetails into fascism. While we must not allow the fascists to define what the nation is, or who it belongs to, it’s worth keeping in mind that nationalism—in all its many avatars: communist, capitalist, and fascist—has been at the root of almost all the genocide of the twentieth century. On the issue of nationalism, it’s wise to proceed with caution.

Can we not find it in ourselves to belong to an ancient civilization instead of to just a recent nation? To love a
land
instead of just patrolling a territory? The Sangh Parivar understands nothing of what civilization means. It seeks to limit, reduce, define, dismember, and desecrate the memory of what we were, our understanding of what we are, and our dreams of who we want to be. What kind of India do they want? A limbless, headless, soulless torso, left bleeding under the butcher’s cleaver with a flag driven deep into her mutilated heart? Can we let that happen? Have we let it happen?

The incipient, creeping fascism of the past few years has been groomed by many of our “democratic” institutions. Everyone has flirted with it—Parliament, the press, the police, the administration, the public. Even “secularists” have been guilty of helping to create the right climate. Each time you defend the right of an institution,
any
institution (including the Supreme Court), to exercise unfettered, unaccountable powers that must never be challenged, you move toward fascism. To be fair, perhaps not everyone recognized the early signs for what they were.

The national press has been startlingly courageous in its denunciation of the events of the last few weeks. Many of the BJP’s fellow-travelers, who have journeyed with it to the brink, are now looking down the abyss into the hell that was once Gujarat and turning away in genuine dismay. But how hard and for how long will they fight? This is not going to be like a publicity campaign for an upcoming cricket season. And there will not always be spectacular carnage to report on. Fascism is also about the slow, steady infiltration of all the instruments of state power. It’s about the slow erosion of civil liberties, about unspectacular day-to-day injustices. Fighting it means fighting to win back the minds and hearts of people. Fighting it does not mean asking for RSS shakhas and the madrassas that are overtly communal to be banned, it means working toward the day when they’re voluntarily abandoned as bad ideas. It means keeping an eagle eye on public institutions and demanding accountability. It means putting your ear to the ground and listening to the whispering of the truly powerless. It means giving a forum to the myriad voices from the hundreds of resistance movements across the country which are speaking about
real
things—about bonded labor, marital rape, sexual preferences, women’s wages, uranium dumping, unsustainable mining, weavers’ woes, farmers’ suicides. It means fighting displacement and dispossession and the relentless, everyday violence of abject poverty. Fighting it also means not allowing your newspaper columns and prime-time TV spots to be hijacked by their spurious passions and their staged theatrics, which are designed to divert attention from everything else.

While most people in India have been horrified by what happened in Gujarat, many thousands of the indoctrinated are preparing to journey deeper into the heart of the horror. Look around you and you’ll see in little parks, in empty lots, in village commons, the RSS is marching, hoisting its saffron flag. Suddenly they’re everywhere, grown men in khaki shorts marching, marching, marching. To
where
? For
what
?
Their disregard for history shields them from the knowledge that fascism will thrive for a short while and then self-annihilate because of its inherent stupidity. But unfortunately, like the radioactive fallout of a nuclear strike, it has a half-life that will cripple generations to come.

These levels of rage and hatred cannot be contained, cannot be expected to subside, with public censure and denunciation. Hymns of brotherhood and love are great, but not enough.

Historically, fascist movements have been fueled by feelings of national disillusionment. Fascism has come to India after the dreams that fueled the Freedom Struggle have been frittered away like so much loose change.

Independence itself came to us as what Gandhi famously called a “wooden loaf”—a notional freedom tainted by the blood of the thousands who died during Partition.
45
For more than half a century now, the hatred and mutual distrust has been exacerbated, toyed with, and never allowed to heal by politicians, led from the front by Indira Gandhi. Every political party has tilled the marrow of our secular parliamentary democracy, mining it for electoral advantage. Like termites excavating a mound, they’ve made tunnels and underground passages, undermining the meaning of “secular,” until it has become just an empty shell that’s about to implode. Their tilling has weakened the foundations of the structure that connects the constitution, Parliament, and the courts of law—the configuration of checks and balances that forms the backbone of a parliamentary democracy. Under the circumstances, it’s futile to go on blaming politicians and demanding from them a morality of which they’re incapable. There’s something pitiable about a people that constantly bemoans its leaders. If they’ve let us down, it’s only because we’ve allowed them to. It could be argued that civil society has failed its leaders as much as leaders have failed civil society. We have to accept that there is a dangerous, systemic flaw in our parliamentary democracy that politicians
will
exploit. And that’s what results in the kind of conflagration that we have witnessed in Gujarat. There’s fire in the ducts. We have to address this issue and come up with a
systemic
solution.

BOOK: The End of Imagination
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