Communal Violence: Who is to be blamed?

    By Ram Puniyani,

    A friend with dogged determination to show that the BJP is a lesser culprit of communal violence and that Congress is the major party to be blamed, listed the major communal riots in India and showed that most of the time when violence took place, it was Congress which has been the ruling party. He asks, so why get stuck with one episode of Gujarat violence and put it as a major point against Narendra Modi or BJP for that matter? Others also regularly point out that the role of Congress was no different in anti Sikh pogrom of 1984 in Delhi, when so many Congressmen were involved at various levels in anti Sikh pogrom. If Modi justified Gujarat by saying ‘every action has an opposite reaction’ Rajiv Gandhi also told us ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes’. So why single out Modi-BJP being worse than Congress on the scale of ‘who is more responsible for communal violence’.

    The story so far has been that in India the communal violence began with the British implementing the policy of ‘divide and rule’ and for achieving that they did introduce communal historiography, looking at Kings through the prism of ‘Kings’ religion’, this vision of history being taken up by the declining classes of landlords and Raja-Nawabs. These declining sections of society laid the foundation of communalism, Muslim and Hindu both. Hindu communalists blamed Muslim kings for temple destruction and forcible conversions, while Muslim communalists claimed that they were the rulers of the country. This distorted version of the past created an atmosphere of mutual hate amongst Hindus and Muslims. The communal violence gradually went up as communal parties, Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha along with other communal formations created an atmosphere of mutual hate. Still they did not get success in the electoral arena.

    During the British period while the blame can be put to the communal history introduced by British and their subtle moves to play one community against the other, the communal forces cannot be exonerated for their role in perpetuating violence. The police authorities that time played the role of a neutral observer. What is important here to see that there are multiple agencies that played different types of role in the tragedy of Hindu Muslim violence? The blame at this stage has to be apportioned to British policies (especially there introduction of communal historiography and the policy of ‘divide and rule’), to the communal forces in equal measures. At this stage the police-administration cannot be blamed for the role in violence.

    Things gradually started changing. After independence the role of Administration-Police gradually started becoming partisan. The research of Dr. V.N.Rai, police officer of repute, showed that no violence can go on unless the administration, political forces included, wants it that way. The major blame has to go to the communal forces, who not only kept on spreading canards against minority community but some of their elements used communal violence to polarize the community along religious lines. The polarization along religious lines did help the communal forces to consolidate themselves in the social-political and electoral arena. Many a politicians from other parties also sometimes used the violence to either retain the power or to come to power. The inquiry commission reports during this time uniformly tell the role of communal forces. Jagmohan Reddy Commission on Ahmadabad riots of 1969 talks of the active participation of RSS-Jansangh leaders, Jan Sangh is the previous avatar of BJP. Major blame has to go to these forces, though they were not in power.

    In Bhivandi Jalgaon riots of 1970 Justice D.P. Madon states that ‘section of Hindu elements particularly RSS and some PSP men were bent upon crating mischief, and they could succeed because of the passive police’. Justice Joseph Vithayathil on Tellicherry riots of 1971 points out that the anti Muslim propaganda was begun by RSS-Jan Sangh which changed the situation leading to communal polarization. In 1979 Jamshedpur riots, the report of commission of inquiry says that Samyukta Bajarangbalis Akhada Samiti, related to RSS was the one which deliberately created the dispute on the issue of route of procession and the members of Samiti raised anti Muslim slogans leading to violence. Justice Venugopal on Kanykumari 1982 riots makes the observation about the role of RSS in spreading rumors etc., the rumors acted as instigation to violence. Justice Srikrishna Commission also makes it clear that the BJP ally Shiv Sena’s role in Mumbai violence was very stark.

    So the question is if there is some ruling party, should it be totally blamed? The violence is an outcome of divisive propaganda, communal instigation, role of police and the attitude of the ruling party. They all have separate blames to take. While the ruling party, which has been Congress most of the places has to be blamed for its soft handing of violence, sometimes overlooking the violence, and sometimes being the active instigator as in the example of Delhi in particular. The role of police is very central. The police which was neutral at the time of British rule today has gone to become the most partisan player in this tragic phenomenon as seen in the Dhule riots of 2012 in Maharashtra. Here the role of the Hindu mob was not needed as police did the firing on its own and killed the hapless minority victims.

    So how do we compare BJP and Congress as far as communal violence is concerned? BJP is the political child of RSS. Communal propaganda, rumors, polarization, instigation and violence has been led by RSS combine from the front by this organization and its affiliates, the different progeny of RSS. Gujarat is the ‘total’ example, while in other episodes also it has played the crucial central role. Not being in power does not mean it has not played the central instigator role. This argument that Congress has been mostly in rule so it is to be blamed for violence has been cleverly constructed for propaganda purposes. While Congress cannot be exonerated for its role in the violence, its role cannot be compared with that of BJP in any sense. Barring one example of the tragedy of Anti Sikh violence, where the role of Congress was central, in other cases mostly its acts were that of omission, while BJP and company have central role in most acts of violence.

    Role of Congress in 1984 anti Sikh pogrom will be a permanent blot on its own inheritance of pluralism and secularism. It has tried to rectify it by apologizing for the same and its plural character is also reflected by its prime minister who is a Sikh, having the longest uninterrupted reign as PM after Nehru. As such BJP cannot be compared with any other political party as it is a political child of RSS, which is working for Hindu nation. Some social scientists have very well given the contrasting nature of the politics of Congress and BJP. Aijaz Ahmed points out that BJP is programmatically communal while Congress is pragmatically-opportunistically communal. Mukul Kesvan in one of his recent article says that Congress is inherently plural and is opportunistically communal, while BJP is ideologically communal and opportunistically secular.

    Notwithstanding the fact that communal violence is a multi-factorial phenomenon, two wrongs don’t make a right, Congress needs to tighten the total link from bottom to top, and rectify the factors which have been leading to communal violence. The communal propaganda, the laxity of laws, the impunity with which the guilty officers get away. It needs to bring in anti communal violence bill to see that this sub human phenomenon is put to rest. The propaganda emerging from RSS combine stable is totally misleading to say the least.