CLOSE TO THE GARDEN OF BROKEN SHADOWSby HUMRA QURAISHI December 8 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 4 secs
Humra Quraishi traces the events from 6th December 1992 to the recently concluded assembly elections, bring to fore the ominous predictions of Dr B.R. Ambedkar way back in 1949.
I started writing this column on 6th December. I realize that years have passed after the Babri Masjid demolition but this date cannot be erased from my mind because I believe like most others that it’s a huge turning point in the political history of India. The demolition, which took place on this day in 1992, with the support of the Right-Wing forces from within and outside the government, sowed the poisonous seeds of polarization that come to haunt us today. Thereafter, there’s been further decay, in terms of the co-existence of the diversity of religions, languages and cultures that we were once so proud of.
Today, of course, elections are fought and won on the basis of communal politics and propaganda by the most criminal use of mainstream media. Expressing my fears to Vinta Nanda, filmmaker, writer and editor of this magazine, I asked her to share her thoughts. She said, “What concerns me is that the politicians and industrialists who perpetuate the communal culture of hatred and othering minorities, not ever intending remotely to achieve equality but assiduously continuing to gain power, are least bothered about what will be the impact of their actions and their greed upon their own children and future generations. Do they really believe this is permanent? That they will always be in control of everything? Don’t they know that all mighty empires, from the history of the world, eventually fell, disintegrated or were ruthlessly booted out? How little are they informed, how small is their world-view and knowledge about the forces that determine the future! I’m amazed that the wealthier they get, the further they are removed from the power of ordinary people, especially when they see that their liberty, their freedom, their democracy is at stake. How long does the government and its cronies think it can deny masses from knowing the truth? If these powerful men and women cannot recognise that today the Indian National Congress, considered invincible barely thirty years ago, is the result of the mistakes of its past leaders, then they are oblivious to the consequences of their own actions”.
Alas, when the realisation dawns, of the disasters caused by the politics they are playing, it will be too late! In Rajasthan, hours after the BJP had won the recent assembly elections, there was a gruesome murder of a prominent Rajput leader of the Karni Sena in the city of Jaipur. And, the following day, a newly elected BJP MLA went around town threatening vendors selling “non-vegetarian food items” from carts and small shops on the roadside, with that ensuring that scores of our fellow citizens are rendered jobless and therefore fall at the mercy of the dole, schemes in the name of welfare, to join the burgeoning number of 82 crore Indian people already dependent on it.
It’s a different matter, altogether, that within hours this person had to eat the flesh of his own words. He took a complete U-Turn. In all probability he didn’t realize that a large percentage of vendors he had ordered to shut shop were non-Muslim. Ignorance coupled with the communal poisoning is not only lethal, but it is based on myths, misconceptions and utter lies to cause friction. I shudder to think what’s coming ahead, with the Right-Wing politics making further inroads day by day.
I was reading this piece by S. N. Sahu (Officer on Special Duty to the former President of India K.R. Narayanan) on how Dr B.R. Ambedkar had, decades ago, foretold this darkness that’s descending upon us today. He writes, “Seventy-seven years after Ambedkar’s passing away, his apprehensions, that in the absence of any provision in the Constitution preventing the executive to appoint a foolish, knave or a pliable person as election commissioner or chief election commissioner – making the EC, in his words, “the thumb of the executive” – have come true. He said so in the Constituent Assembly on June 16, 1949, during the debates on the draft Article 289 (now Article 324) of the Constitution, dealing with the EC. Has not the conduct of the EC in the elections to the aforementioned state assemblies testified to the apprehensions of Ambedkar, that it would come under the thumb of the executive?”
Sahu went further, “When the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) was in operation and the election campaign was at its peak, the EC did not prevent the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh when it released money to the people under the Ladli Behna scheme. In contrast, it prevented the Telangana government from releasing money to farmers under the Rythu Bandhu Scheme. It clearly proved the point that the standard employed by the EC for BJP state governments was not applied to the Telangana government. The glaring differentiation in applying one norm for the BJP-led government in MP, and the non-application of the same norm for Telangana is evocative of the doctrine of differential rights often employed by the colonial rulers in India to discriminate against Indians and favour the whites who wielded power. It is tragic that the same doctrine is in operation in the action of EC, which in the words of Ambedkar has ‘come under the thumb of the executive’. The manner in which the EC only issued notices to some opposition leaders on the charge that they violated the MCC and completely ignored the complaints of opposition parties against BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister and Union home minister, for invoking religion to seek votes, clearly proved the point that the EC did not act impartially. It is in such tragic circumstances that Ambedkar’s cautionary words assume critical significance for summoning the collective energy to address the problem caused by the EC.”
And, he says, “On the solemn occasion of Ambedkar’s death anniversary, it is instructive to see, in retrospect, his draft Constitution for the United States of India. He prepared it in 1945 and submitted it to a sub-committee of the Constituent Assembly. Anticipating that minorities in India would be boycotted in the social and economic realms on account of the discrimination meted out to them because of their faith, he dealt with the issue elaborately and provided a separate section under the captions ‘Provisions for the protection of minorities, protection against social boycott’”.
I will let you think about the above and end this week’s column with a verse of the Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008). He wrote ‘Under Siege’, a collection of poems on the Israeli invasion of the West Bank, in 2002, while he was under siege himself in Ramallah:
‘Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time/Close to the gardens of broken shadows,/We do what prisoners do,/And what the jobless do:/We cultivate hope.’