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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2641

Stooping to conquer in Gujarat

By M. Rama Rao - Syndicate Features

Stoop to conquer is the message from battle ground Gujarat as the electorate sealed the fate of contenders, real and phoney, for a place in the Gandhinagar Sachivalaya.

Who had stooped low? “Sonia”, says Narendra Modi. “No, that discredit goes to Modi”, says Digvijay Singh, the Congress general secretary, who along with Sonia Gandhi came on the EC firing line shortly after Congress, the Left, and the lawyer- social activist Teesta Setalvad dragged Modi to the EC court.

Interestingly, the Congress-BJP spat has taken place a couple of days after BJP senior LK Advani told Rahul Gandhi, the heir to the Congress throne, “It is time we both stopped treating each other as enemy”.

That advice was given during a chance encounter at the Delhi airport. It was their first meeting. The young Gandhi walked up to Advani, introduced himself saying that he had no occasion thus far to meet him and greeted him formally. It was not a put on act, according to onlookers. And the gesture was in the true Indian tradition of a youngster showing deference to his senior.

Was Advani surprised given the amount of bad blood between 10 Janpath and 11 Ashok Road? The veteran gave no hint. He warmly received Rahul and they both were soon seen engaged in a serious conversation.

Advani, the strategist, has an ability to read the pulse of the nation. So, he has been talking for a while about the need for mainstream parties to put their act together to face the threat posed by forces that have come to represent regional, religious, sectional, and casteist interests. The urgency in his view is more now since Mayawati’s engineering has ushered in a new political climate of hope for some and despair for some others.

Probably, in normal times, Rahul-Advani tête-à-tête could have facilitated a thaw of sorts in the Congress-BJP relations. Not when both are fighting a no holds barred battle in Gujarat. And when Sonia Gandhi, leading the Congress charge against the darling of Hindutva brigade, described him as the ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchants of death).

The Congress president had taken no names. She made no reference to Modi himself. But her spokesperson, Manu Abhishek Singhvi, a noted jurist, said, “What Sonia Gandhi said is there for all to hear, understand and read”.

Expectedly, Advani rose in defence of Modi. It was an aggressive defence by all means. “You may call him a Hitler. No problem, because in India, Hitler has come to denote not what the German had come to stand for universally but a strong willed person who acts high-handedly. But to call a person a maut ka saudagar? It is an act of provocation”.

Modi went into overdrive. And Soharabuddin became a metaphor. Electioneering turned to ‘death and fear’. Media reports quoted Modi as asking crowds, “You tell, what should be done to Sohrabuddin? Their response was predictable: “Kill him, Kill him”. Going by reports, Modi told cheering crowds, ‘Well, that is what I did, And I did what was necessary. Do I need Sonia’s permission for this?”

Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who has a criminal record, was killed by Gujarat’s anti-terrorist squad (ATS) on November 26, 2005. Two days later his wife, Kauserbi was also eliminated. It appears her crime was being a witness to her husband’s abduction by the police. By the time the couple were ‘finished’, the police of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh were also after them. As usual, post encounter press briefing described the victim as a terrorist, a member of the dreaded militant outfit, Lashkar-e- Taiba.

It took almost two years for the encounter to land in the Supreme Court, and a charge sheet to be filed against 13 police officials, who had thought they had covered their tracks. One of these officers is D G Vanzara, who headed the ATS in the rank of a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG). The charge sheet was, and, in fact, is a chilling reminder of the imperfections of our democracy, as the Times of India observed editorially on July 18, 2007.

Politicians have a penchant to concern themselves only with the immediate. For them today is important. Tomorrow is just another day. But for statesmen, neither today nor yesterday is of concern though they do draw their strength from the present and the past. For them tomorrow is a new dawn of hope and pride and not an occasion to cause despair.

The campaign theme in Gujarat shows we have more politicians in the land of Bapu. Most of them are clever by half, experts at hair splitting contentions. The post-maut ka saudagar twists and turns bear this out.

Reports from the battle ground say Modi stated ‘Sohrabuddin got what he deserved’, and added ‘it is a confessional statement’ by him with some reports going on to say ‘Modi has justified a murder’. But Modi’s contention before the EC is that the controversy was generated by a report (in local English daily) of his December 4 election rally, which was not factual. Particularly the remark, ‘You tell what should be done to Sohrabuddin... And I did what was necessary’, is not reflected in the CD in the possession of the poll body.

In the same breath, Narendra Modi is not at all apologetic of his counter charges. “It is clear that my comment is a part of my speech where on several occasions I have put questions to the audience which the audience has answered. It is my political response to Smt. Gandhi’s allegation that I am Maut-ka-Saudagar. I have replied back alleging that the Congress party is helping those who have spread terrorism in the country”, he stated in his reply to the EC notice.

He went to say, “No where in my speech have I explicitly referred to the religion of any person. I have spoken against terrorism. It is not my speech but the complaint which assumes terrorism is linked to a religion”. In so many words, Modi appeared to question the Nirvachan Sadan: how could you issue a notice on the basis of ‘unverified and false media reports’.

At the time of writing this article, verdict from the Election Commission was awaited on the new Modinama.

Surprisingly, just before the first phase of polling ended, Sonia Gandhi reinvented her campaign wheel, discarded, in a manner of speaking, ‘maut ka saudagar’ theme and sought the vote to ‘take forward the weak and backward Gujarat’. Her son, Rahul, flew in to give a final push to campaigning and to request Gujaratis ‘to throw away those who are hiding the truth by making bogus claims of development’.

Obviously, the Congress strategists did a campaign rejig who felt it is better to beat Modi with his own weapon – development and Gujarat’s pride. Modi entered the battle on development plank and stuck to that refrain till Sohrabuddin came to haunt him. Suffice to say the verbal duel has shifted the focus a wee bit away from the poll to Modi, who has emerged larger than the Hindutva cut-out that he was not too long ago.

- Syndicate Features -

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