Terrorists and traitors
Years ago, Yusuf Muchala, even then a noted lawyer practising at the Bombay High Court, had told me something that has stuck in my mind forever.
He was representing victims of the Bombay riots of 1992-93 before the Srikrishna Commission probing those riots and even as he bitterly fought for their rights and justice, he told me, “I will never fight a case for those involved in the serial blasts (of 1993). Because they are perpetrators, not victims. They are terrorists, not innocents. But, more importantly, they have betrayed the nation. So they are traitors and deserve to be summarily hanged forthwith.”
So I caught up with him again for some case studies that I needed for the research I am doing into the politics of hate. We had a long conversation and the talk veered round to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and the attack he is under from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, I have had good reason to believe that the BJP picks on Chidambaram essentially because he is sitting on a lot of explosive information about saffron terrorism in this country. I have been told by many top cops in Bombay that saffronists may be involved in a lot more terrorist activity in India these past years than just the Malegaon blasts or that at Ajemr Sharif and in the Samjhauta Express. Particularly with situations in Maharashtra – like the discovery of false Muslim beards and caps from a saffron hideout in Gadchiroil district a few months ago – they have shared much of their information with Chidambaram because they find their political masters in Bombay (Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Home Minister R R Patil) too politically naive to shoulder the burden of those facts. Now the BJP is not sure on how much information Chidambaram actually has on such anti-national saffron activity and so the attempt is to discredit him with corruption charges so that whenever he feels the need to share that information with the rest of the county, he might be so compromised personally that few will pay attention to his statements.
I expressed that view to Mr Muchala during the course of our conversation and while he said what I thought might well be true, he had another perspective on the BJP’s concerted attacks on Chidambaram. “Over the past years I have got to know the Home Minister pretty well. You might say a lot of things about him and they may well be true or untrue. But there are two things that clearly distinguish this man — one, he is a great believer in capitalism and two, he is secular to the core.”
Supporters of the BJP might love his capitalist instincts, but they clearly hate his secular credentials. And, says Advocate Muchala, it is not just the fact that he is sitting on so much information on what he calls ‘right wing terrorism’. According to him, Chidambaram has spotted the fact that in the years that the BJP was in power at the Centre, it had peopled
the intelligence agencies in this country with a lot of saffron sympathisers. “He has spotted those officers and has been systematically weeding them out of these agencies. The BJP does not like that fact at all. And so they are out to get the Home Minister.”
I do not find it too difficult to believe Advocate Muchala for I have seen it happen before — in Bombay, after the 1992-93 riots. Bombay’s cops, including those on the top echelons, were accused of sympathising with the Shiv Sena during the riots -there was one instance when a physically handicapped son, a peanut vendor, of a beggar woman residing on the footpath at Apollo Bunder in South Bombay, was actually picked up by a police inspector who brought him to the rioting Shiv Sainiks and looked the other way when they cut him down with swords. The entire police force then conspired to cover up the brutality of at act – when Justice Srikrishna wanted to hear the case of the bereaved mother, first the cops said they could not understand the language the woman spoke ( which was Bengali) and when the lawyers said translators and interpreters could be easily found for the purpose, they quickly demolished all the hutments on that pavement overnight so that the whereabouts of the woman were lost forever – she was unlettered and had no idea she could seek justice from the courts.
Such acts by the saffronised police force of Bombay were brought to the notice of then Union Home Minister S B Chavan who hailed from Maharashtra and had been the state’s chief minister for two terms. Silently and systematically, he began to move against those cops — there was no overt or legal action against them; they were merely identified as saffron and quietly transferred out of Bombay to remote rural areas of Maharashtra carefully chosen to ensure that these postings had no history of communal conflict so that the cops could not get into more mischief at their new stations.
Never having been in power at the time, the Shiv Sena had no idea what was being accomplished by the Union and state governments, both ruled by the Congress at the time, so that when they came to power a few years later in 1995, they discovered that all their sympathisers had disappeared from the police force in Bombay. There was little they could do then to restore the pre-riots status quo for the Congress was now on vigil – and peace was maintained throughout the state with no room for riots at all, while cops now routinely arrested extortionists and others from among the Shiv Sainiks even as the state continued to be ruled by the saffron alliance.
But the Shiv Sena always dealt with only the small fry. With the BJP the scale was always larger and more sinister. Unlike the Sena leadership which is even now both rather ignorant of the ways of government and unable to spot the intelligent moves by others in power they do not understand subtleties), the BJP has enough intelligent leaders who can read the moves correctly and understand the consequences that might follow. They have, clearly, understood very well what the Union Home Minister is about and while they may still have no chance at power again (a colleague who studies the BJP closely tells me they are unlikely to get more than 90 seats in the next Lok Sabha), they fear what might happen to their long term plans if all the institutions they have peopled with saffron sympathisers during their years in government were to be neutralised by the present regime in power.
My hats off to P Chidambaram, though. What the Congress did in Maharashtra nearly two decades ago, ensured that the Sena’s agenda would never succeed again. Nor, now, might there be another Gujarat (whose police investigation into the 2002 riots has been so shoddy as to bring forth few convictions despite the obvious guilt of the perpetrators) or even another Mecca Masjid blast where innocents were victimised for an act in which they had no involvement. The BJP knows if Chidambaram stays long enough in his job, the safrfronist agneda might well all similarly unravel.
As for corruption, if at all Chidambaram is involved in what he is being accused of, there are other ways of dealing with this very secular activity. Apart from A Raja of the DMK still rotting in jail and Suresh Kalmadi of the Congress out on bail, has anybody yet forgotten Bangaru Laxman or B S Yedyurappa. The last I’d heard of them, didn’t they still belong to the BJP?