Tehelka Expose: The Political Context

Despite the hoopla surrounding the Tehelka expose of Narendra Modi’s role in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, it is unlikely to have a negative fallout on Mr Modi’s immediate electoral prospects- indeed it is likely that it will on the contrary provide a surge in favour of Modi, unless there is a very strong and decisive action by the judiciary or the Election Commission. Even in that case, there is all likelihood that the expose will actually consolidate the tide in favour of the BJP in the state. The sad reality is that it is not just Mr Modi who shares the anti- Muslim vitriol of the Sangh Parivar in the state. There is a reason that it has come to be known as Hindutva’s Laboratory.

In all likelihood, the BJP will return to power in the ensuring elections not despite of the expose, but partially because of it.

It is interesting to note that it was sheer overconfidence on the part of the Babu Bajrangis who let down their guard- reminiscent of the BJP’s condition of euphoria before 2004. “The Congress will not return to power for the next 50 years”, its star leader Pramod Mahajan had declared then. Similar is the condition in  the kingdom of the BJP’s star Chief Minister, except that the Chhote Sardar is well- entrenched and his position strong, unless there is an invisible under current of resentment at the ground that may swing the tide as it did in 2004. The Congress’s refusal to take on the BJP aggressively, and indeed to downplay the Tehelka expose, is a strategy whose outcome is difficult to predict till the elections are held and results declared.

But the good news is that for the already beleaguered BJP at the national level, Mr Modi has now become an albatross around its neck. It is yet to recover from its electoral debacle of 2004, it is not clear who exactly its leaders are, despite courageous attempts to re-live their past authority, Vajpaee and Advani have both age and past record against them. The skeletons in the cupboard that emerged after Pramod Mahajan’s death call into question the calibre of its NextGen leadership that now is on the defensive, more often squabbling amongst itself if not, like Ms Uma Bharti, discrediting, the mother Party. TV channels are not banned outside Gujarat, and Mr Modi’s misdeeds will not go unnoticed by the substantial number of fence sitter supporters of the BJP.

The BJP’s economic agenda that appeals to the upper/ middle classes has been inherited by the current government and if the UPA is able to successfully complete its five year term- it will be an achievement of sorts- it is more likely to result in a broad coalition coalescing around the INC rather than the BJP. Despite it’s championing of the neo- liberal assault, its continued ignorance of the poor and the deprived, the UPA has provided a relatively more peaceful environment compared to the BJP- there has been a lessening of communal tensions and riots in the country during the UPA rule.

The challenge for the UPA is to address increasing economic disparities, overcome it’s urban focussed, stock market oriented ‘growth’ policies, and to attend to the cause of the poorest of the poor, especially in the eastern states where vast areas are in various stages of rebellion. The Left that supports the UPA seems to be rather ineffective in veering the course towards those whose cause it claims to champion, that is, the working poor.

The course of Indian politics changes substantially to the extent of making a U- turn, every two decades- remember 1969, and then 1990-92. It is nearly two decades since 1990, and there is a political churning- the BSP’s emergence is indeed the most exciting one, despite it’s pitfalls. The continuing setback to the BJP and the consolidation of a Centre- Left coalition at the national level is another. What is needed is a push further to the left in the next two to three years. That means, in short, more attention towards the poor and the deprived since it is unlikely that anything substantial will “trickle down” by then.

As of now, the chances for the INC/UPA to return to power in the next general elections seem positive- the BJP and its Hindutva agenda are being  beaten back, the Tehelka expose is yet another step in reclaiming the middle ground, the secular terrain, another one being the  secularization of  political grammar, via the Sachar Committee Report‘s replacement of the rhetoric of “minority appeasement” by the reality of the economic and social marginalization of Indian Muslims.

It has become increasingly difficult for the BJP to replicate the, alas, “successful”, experiment outside Mr Modi’s laboratory. The Tehelka expose may not have told us anything new, but along with the Sachar Committee Report, marks a slow but steady recovery of secular politics. At least outside Gujarat.

Cross posted: Krish’s blog and Indian Muslims

Related Post: The Threat from Hindutva and Islam

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19 thoughts on “Tehelka Expose: The Political Context

  1. I am not sure about this. – “In all likelihood, the BJP will return to power in the ensuring elections”. Things are not as rosy for the BJP in Gujarat.

  2. Well balanced..but hey predictions are dangerous 🙂

    I think the tehelka expose is important, though it might work for Modi in the short term. As you put it in another way, it is very important to keep Gujarat alive. Just a week before, Modi was being touted as the poster boy of reform and attracting investments. The tehelka episode has shifted that debate to left of center.

    then again on a national level, it will not be just economic policy, because I am not sure how much people care about centre’s policy – it comes down to state level. so i guess, it will be coalations that matter. If there is a defenitive verdict against say YSR in Andhra, then our new messiah Naidu will not have a problem in going back to BJP stables post election with his 40 odd MPs. But yeah, BJP is badly bruised. even if the sentiment shifts to far right, there is no credible party there. BJP is not a different party anymore.

  3. The Gujarat election is practically a foregone conclusion, there is not any prediction that I am doing here. If at all it sounds like one, I have added a ‘safety valve’ by mentioning the possible resentment at the ground level. My intention is not to predict the outcome, but analyse the broad pattern of recent developments.

    Of course, I will be happy if the BJP loses power in Gujarat.

    While state governments are important determinants, the central government holds the key more often than not, and a UPA government is the best option. It is just not right to equate the Congress with the BJP- there are fundamental differences between a compromising but historic party and an intrinsically fascist one.

  4. All is Game of power ….nothing else..All Political parties are same. yeh modi is exception and do not know meaning of republic india….

  5. Hi Bhupinder – thought I will move here with the conversation …..
    – I know people who were sickened enough by the post Godhra riots to quit the BJP and the VHP
    – I know of non BJP supporters, who only voted for the BJP in gujarat because it was an issue of ‘Gujarati honour’ — a lot of public talk was about Gujarati’s being murderers…… in the elections that took place post the riots
    – I know of BJP supporters who stayed away from voting in the parliamentary elections – because their sensibilities were offended by the degree and virulence of Modi’s personal attack on Sonia…..

    In a way, I am hoping that the media and political parties ignoring the stories – may just let the people of Gujarat introspect on this issue and its fallout…. They may actually end up surprising us all by doing the right thing – and voting the BJP out of power……

  6. For the sake of repeating, I dont think the Gujarat outcome is a foregone conclusion at all.
    Secondly, the previous Gujarat election was not a normal election, as it was held after the massacre. The “experiment’ was not new – it was tried and tested in 1984 by the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi when Sikhs were massacred. That Rajiv Gandhi had a landslide victory after the massacre of Sikhs was no surprise. Neither was Modi’s.
    Five years later in 1989, Congress under Rajiv suffered badly and lost elections.
    Let us see what happens to BJP in Gujarat five years after the unusual election of 2002.

  7. Disillusionment with the BJP is one thing, and the readiness of the Congress to win another. Anyway, as to the hope that
    >…(the people of Gujarat may end up) voting the BJP out of power……


  8. Media conspiracy to politicize Gujarat genocide

    No sooner the next day broke, after a shell-shocked nation woke up to a new day, English media was ready with its own take on what the Tehelka expose of spy-cam interviews with some of more notorious braggarts, should convey to the people of India.

    Overwhelmingly, they disregarded the criminal element in the whole episode, and tried to subvert the impact of the expose, by stressing the political implication of one of the most engrossing TV ‘campaign’ that kept the widest number of households glued to their screens watching AAJ TAK or HEADLINES TODAY.

    Cross city phones were used by friends in all parts of India to alert friends and families as to what is being shown about the criminal involvement of Sangh Parivar, in the 2002 Gujarat Genocide, in which Muslims were targeted in an organised manner, while the Chief Minister Narendra Modi had allegedly given the organizers of the genocide, full three days, after the Godhra train burning accident, to unleash their fury on the hapless Muslims all over his state. A BJP functionary openly admitted that he attended a meeting, in which Narendra Modi had openly asked them to do what they have to do, within the next three days. After three days, he will call a halt and all atrocities will end.

    This piece of admission on tape gives full evidence to implicate and put the Chief Minister behind the bars.

    However, the English language newspapers, whose clout is much more with the elite than the language papers, devoted pages after pages on the speculation as to what this explosive Tehelka expose will mean to the election prospects of Narendra Modi, Congress and not to mention, a totally newcomer, Rahul Gandhi.

    The sole purpose of the politicizing of the issue would appear to be to minimize the criminal implications that should ensue from the night long TV coverage of the Tehelka spy-cam of the voluntary disclosure amounting to confessions of the criminals, in full spirit of bragging, detailing, how they killed, how they cut out a live fetus by slashing the stomach of a pregnant mother, how they used swords to cut the hands from the shoulders and the testicles of Congress Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jaffery and then burn him alive, how Modi congratulated them on their cowardice, by saying: ’Dhann ho’ – (glory to you); how the infamous Babu Bajrangi ( ‘neither loot nor rape, this Bajrang Dal leader had only murder on his mind’) phones the State Home Minister Jhapadia, to report that he had killed so many people (105 by police account/double that number by Bajrangi admission) and you should now take care of him; how Jhapadia asked him to leave the state forthwith, instead of sending his police to arrest the criminal; how a policeman admits to killing 5 Muslims pointblank; how they manufactured crude rockets to bombard on Muslim colonies in Ahmadabad; how the imported truckloads of swords from Punjab and distributed them among the killers all over state, how they got country-made pistols from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to use in one of the most gruesome carnage that India has witnessed in recent times; how they torched whole Muslim localities and murdered and burned the fleeing men, women and children; how the police not only stood by, but even helped in cover-ups; how dead bodies were transported to distant place to be buried in mass graves.

    Though all these episodes are now folk-lore of Gujarat’s criminalized communities, for the first time, a legal proof was available to the people at large, to expect, demand that all these criminals should be hauled up in courts charged with premeditated mass murders, the media was only interested to bypass the legal and criminal implications of the airing of the Tehelka footage and was only interested in engaging people into political debates about how state of Gujarat will vote in the coming assembly election, or if Modi’s chances for becoming the next Prime Minister of India have diminished.

    The more the far-fetched the discussion is stretched, the less time, space and energy will be available to figure out how best to energize the legal and judicial machinery of the state and center or even international human rights agencies and International Criminal Court, to punish the notorious criminal gangs who are now ensconced at the very top of political and state power and whose fascist ambitions are yet to unfold to their logical horror potential for the fate of India as a united nation.

    Except for Abhishek Singhvi, who appeared genuinely pained by the telecast of the open admissions of the criminals about their genocidal crimes during 2002 holocaust, none other in print or TV media came out with the legal remedies that should now confront the criminals. Nowhere in English media, there was any hint of outrage or condemnation of the carnage. They just spun tales around what these exposures will mean for the political fortunes of BJP and Congress. For them Gujarat genocide was old story.

    For the 150 million Muslims of India, both the Brahmin political groupings have the same criminal elements infiltrated not only in their organisational structure but in their very thought processes and political strategies of using Muslims to polarize the nation and win votes on manipulated untruths. Congress Party is notorious for having organised hundreds of big and small communal riots, with or without the help of RSS cadre, throughout the last half century. It is in the same state of Gujarat that under Congress rule, a similar communal genocidal riot was organised in the 1980’s. Gruesome pictures of the victims were circulated all over Muslim communities around the nation. People wept, but did nothing to forestall the coming genocide. Even now, media is sending out warnings that a second attack could be in offing anytime, if Modi is desperate to win the Gujarat assembly elections.

    The least the coalition government in the centre could do, in response to the widest possible consensus among the people of the land, on watching two days of continuous coverage on national TV of the audacity of the criminals boasting their murderous triumphs, that the terrorist organisations like RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal should be banned immediately. All their offices sealed, all those who figure in the Gujarat Genocide should be arrested, be that the Chief Minister or the lowly neighbourhood goon. With the Communists supporting the Coalition government, there is hope that the matter will be taken up seriously at the very top, this time around.

    Murder is murder, and it cannot be condoned. Let the media understand. It is the media that is converting and condoning the criminal as political. They better get their act together and stop being the mouthpiece of vested interests. They carry a heavy burden and great responsibility to promote peace and justice in the fractured nation.

    Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

  9. I read the following lines of you with a feeling that you may be sounding too ‘practical’ and ‘ hope less’ as far as the situation in Gujarat goes.—

    “In all likelihood, the BJP will return to power in the ensuring elections ……”

    Though it may sound a lot wishful on my part ….but please make some provision for the possibility to be pleasantly surprised by the election results in Gujarat…..

    Already as seen in the Lok Sabha election results of 2004 for Gujarat the situation had considerably turned around and Congress secured 12 seats as against BJP’s 14. The difference in percentage votes had also considerably reduced from more than 10 percent to less than 4 percent.

    Many more factors seem to be working against Modi this time. The spirited rebels apart, VHP and RSS seem to be at logger heads with Modi as per media reports. Tribals as such may not support Modi’s dispensation in large numbers.

    In last assembly elections NCP had secured around 4 percent votes though it got no seat.This time a United Front is being envisioned and most likely will be a reality in a day or two. Congress itself doesn’t seem that demoralized this time.

    Though a survey by CSDS recently had predicted a huge majority for BJP but we have seen CSDS survey gone famously wrong in recent Punjab elections whence it had shown 5 percentage lead in votes for Congress as against Akali Dal-BJP…

    Off course sitting outside Gujarat as most of us are and deriving mostly from media reports looking at the scene with their own prejudices we may all be unable to see some under currents as in recent U.P elections…But I hope these under currents are against Modi

  10. Rajdeep Sardesai compared the pogrom in Delhi and Gujarat in the Hindustan Times some time ago.

    He says:
    “On the face of it, the anti-Sikh riots were far more horrific than the post-Godhra violence. More than 2,700 people were killed in 1984, as per the official death toll; in Gujarat, it was a little over a thousand. The 1984 riots have seen just 13 convictions; in Gujarat, the fast-track courts have already convicted more than 15 persons in different cases. The 1984 riots occurred in several high security areas in the heart of the national capital; the 2002 violence spread more thinly to parts of rural Gujarat as well. As a powerful recent book, When a Tree Shook Delhi, confirms, senior Congress politicians, including Union ministers, were actually present on the streets, allegedly leading the mobs in 1984; in Gujarat, the direct evidence against Modi’s cabinet members is still based principally on police phone records. While then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did make some token attempt to distance himself from the Gujarat rioters, it took a Sikh Congress PM in 2005 to finally accept that 1984 was a “national shame”, and that the truth had never come out. Rajiv Gandhi’s statement that “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” is recorded history; Narendra Modi’s “action-reaction” comment was officially denied.”
    “Why then is Modi such a hate figure today for the secularists while Rajiv Gandhi, then Home Minister Narasimha Rao and the entire top Congress leadership have escaped public censure? The answer might unlock not just the Modi enigma, but also the content of Indian secularism, and perhaps indicate just how much India has changed in the last two decades.”
    Further he postulates 3 reasons
    (1) Judiciary was less pro active then
    (2) Human Rights activists were far less organized
    (3) Thirdly, and most crucially, the 2002 riots were the first in the age of round-the-clock ‘live’ television. Gujarat was India’s first television riot.

  11. Trouble with such analysis is that they compare events and not the processes that lead to such events. It is one thing to compare Gujarat- which seems to have become some kind of a benchmark- with the anti Sikh pogrom or the Nandigram events, and another to see that the ideological and political processes that lead to them. Similarly, Hitler and Stalin are compared in the same breath by those that miss out the fundamental difference between nazism and socialism.

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