As one writes these lines, there is the numbing shock of the tragedy in Amritsar—a speeding train mowing down over 60 people who were watching the spectacle of ritual burning of Ravan effigy on Dussehra. Many revellers met with a gruesome end, in some cases entire families have been wiped out. The government has been quick to announce compensation, but the Railways have made it clear that this was a case of trespass. No enquiry is called for. But serious questions remain unanswered.
Who had ‘permitted’ the ‘Ravan Dahan’ so close to the railway tracks? According to some news reports, Navjot Kaur Sidhu was addressing the crowd at the time of the accident. Her husband, Navjot Singh Sidhu, always in a hurry to shoot from the lip, has suggested a conspiracy. Others, even more irresponsibly, have tried to inject the communal virus: If trains can slow down and stop for namaz why not for rituals and rites performed by other communities?
We are expert players of the blame game. From Piyush Goyal to Capt Amarinder Singh, the buck will be passed. Others will maintain a shameful strategic silence in the sensitive election season. After a few days, ‘life will go on’ except for the victims’ families.
News from other parts of the country has been no less disturbing. The Sabarimala controversy has exposed the dangerous fault lines in our society. The gender-biased paternalistic mindset shackled in medieval prejudices continues to fuel passions, not among the orthodox priests, but among devotees who obviously are driven more by blind faith than reason. This has resulted in a frighteningly farcical situation. Frightening because the ‘rule of law’ is being flouted with impunity and the majesty of law as embodied in the judgment of the Supreme Court in this matter lies in tatters.
Both the Congress and CPI(M) are hoist by their own petard. RaGa is busy doing rounds of religious places of worship in Madhya Pradesh, from Pitambara Peeth to a mosque, smearing his forehead with vibhuti and donning the skull cap. Little does the not-so-young-man realise that ‘soft Hindutva’ can strike back crippling the new convert when least expected. There are many who believe that there is another conspiracy at work here.
The situation has deliberately engineered to facilitate BJP’s rise in communal strife-torn Kerala. For decades, we have believed mythological accounts of political literacy and heritage of secular composite culture in this state, choosing to turn a blind eye to communal polarisation and bloodshed on streets. It’s really sad that for most of us the Sabarimala issue has become more important than relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-ravaged state. Divided we stand to fall flat on our face. How long will this continue?
Let’s talk about the election to local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir. The voting figures are revealing. Only 4-5 percent voters have cast their votes in the Valley. In some wards, winners have emerged on the strength of a single vote cast. Elsewhere, even the candidates didn’t turn up to exercise franchise. Discretion is indeed the better part of valour. Those who survive, live to fight another day. What did this exercise prove?
The National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, etc, boycotted the elections. Hurriyat was opposing it. A number of innocent citizens lost their lives in the run up to the hustings. The failure of the government’s ‘Kashmir policy’ is glaring. The moral of the story is that you can’t use the giant-sized carrot as a credible stick. Nor can there be a dialogue with the deaf.
There have been other distractions to keep us away from asking awkward questions about the state of the economy and intimidation of dissenters and critics of the regime. The rot at the top in the CBI can’t be swept under the carpet any longer. The ‘No. 2’ in the agency has been named accused in a bribery case implicating another senior officer in the RAW. This is a case where media should focus. The unravelling of the ISRO spy scandal has shown us how such cases destroy the credibility of institutions more than individual reputation. India at present can ill-afford increasing its vulnerabilities.
Those who rule us and their progeny—bullies and brats—continue to strut the stage as if nothing else matters but their antics. Son of an ex-MP and brother of a sitting MLA brandishes a ‘licenced’ handgun and gets into a brawl in the parking lot of a five-star hotel in the capital hogging headlines for days. The law enforcement officers have accepted the role of bodyguards of the rich and the powerful. ‘Naming and shaming’ has its limited uses. Those who break the law must be swiftly punished and not allowed to abuse the process of law and continue to enjoy predatory lives on bail and parole.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University