Monday, 27 April, 2009

The Victimization of Varun Gandhi

By Madhu Kishwar

Even if all the “communal’ remarks attributed to Varun Gandhi are indeed correct, the refusal of the Congress led UPA government to revoke the prosecution of Varun Gandhi under the draconian National Security Act invoked by the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh is a clear sign of political vendetta. This is not to suggest that if he is found guilty of making inflammatory speeches against any community, he should be allowed to go scot- free. But his arrest under a law enacted ostensibly for the preventive detention of those suspected of undermining the security and safety of the Indian State, amounts to using an AK 47 to kill a cat because it used its paws to scratch someone.

Even at the time of enactment of NSA by the Congress Party in 1980, there were widespread apprehensions that it would be used against political opponents, given the fresh memories of the Emergency. However, even the most virulent critics of the Congress Party could not have imagined that one of its first political victims would be the scion of the banished and disinherited branch of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The use of NSA to settle scores with a political opponent has set a very dangerous precedent. It reaffirms that battles between political parties have come to resemble turf wars carried out by underworld dons who do not hesitate to eliminate rivals through sheer brute force. In this case, the might of the Indian State is being used to eliminate a political opponent who is perceived as providing a challenge to the ruling branch of the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty and to Mayawati’s desire to be the unquestioned ruler of UP while she prepares for capturing the Delhi throne.

However, what is no less disappointing is the conduct of the Election Commission in this entire episode. It is for the first time ever that the Election Commission intervened to declare someone guilty of violating the model code of conduct for elections even though the person had not filed his nomination until then. The EC had no jurisdiction over the matter until March 23, 2009 when the elections were notified but it took the unprecedented step of advising BJP not to field him as a candidate in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, thus legitimizing the high handed action of the Mayawati Government.

The EC has never reacted in this manner against known criminals—including those who are found to have actively participated in or engineered riots and pogroms or accused of heinous crimes like murder, rape and loot of public money. For example, no such strictures have been passed against Raj Thakre, who has not only been spewing venom against North Indians but actually acted out his hate soaked ideology by leading riotous mobs to throw out of Mumbai through violence and mayhem, North Indians who come to Mumbai in search of a meager livelihood.

Similarly, his uncle Bal Thakre has a much longer history of engineering riots and issuing vicious statements against the Muslim community in particular and whoever invokes his ire in general. The Election Commission has never taken such stiff measures against their brazen challenges to public order and constitutional rights of Indian citizens. Is it because such politicians have huge squads of lumpen elements ready to run amok in defense of their leaders? Bal and Raj Thakre have often proclaimed that if they are touched, Mumbai will burn. The Indian State seems to surrender supinely before the threats issued by such lawless leaders.

Apart from the long track record of hate soaked politics of the Thakre family, as per the data released by the Election Commission, there is a substantial presence of people with a criminal record contesting the ongoing general elections. That has been accepted as a fait accompli.

It is ironical that Mayawati who made her political fortune by vituperative speeches against the so called upper castes should be the one to take such strong umbrage at Varun’s offensive speech. Before she decided to forge an alliance with Brahmins and Banias, her mildest way of expressing sentiments against upper castes was “ Tilak Tarazu aur Talwar, Inko Maro Joote Chaar”. The message was that irrespective of whether they committed any acts against the Dalits, people of these castes deserved a thorough thrashing and public humiliation because they had committed the sin of being born in certain castes.

Lalu ji has tried to prove his secular credentials to the Muslim community by openly declaring that he would have crushed Varun to death under a road roller had he been the Home Minister of India. This amounts to an open call for Varun’s murder. But all he gets is a mild rebuke from the EC, even though he is a senior Minister in the UPA government.

By contrast, Varun Gandhi does not have any history of criminal acts or virulent speeches. It is also noteworthy that Pilibhit-- a constituency in which Varun has been an active presence for several years because his mother fought and won five successive elections with record margins --- has never witnessed any communal violence. It escaped sharp polarization even during the communally charged Ram Mandir—Babri Masjid phase.

It is also noteworthy that there was no violent outbreak in Pilibhit from the time of Varun’s controversial speech till date. It became a hot issue in the national media when ten days later the rival Congress candidate, V.N. Singh, who is himself currently on bail for some previous criminal acts, released the cassettes of the speech to national TV channels. It has not been established whether they were doctored or not, as alleged by Varun.

Yet, Varun has been singled out because he is a soft target given that he does not seem to have well trained goonda squads to create mayhem in UP and Delhi to protest his incarceration under NSA. And since he has the misfortune of belonging to BJP, none of the civil liberties organizations think it fit to protest the misuse of NSA in Varun’s case. Allowing such gross misuse of a draconian law with a view to pushing an inconvenient rival out of the electoral arena, instead of using appropriate laws to discipline him if found guilty through due process will further weaken and distort our democracy. It is Varun today. It could be any of us tomorrow.