A SEASON FOR MIGRATION

It is the season of migration, even if the migrants are not birds (the very thought made the BJP frown!) Yet birds and animals migrate for good reason “ food, breeding or to escape a harsh phase in weather. Its even convenient to combine them all. Humans migrate in search of opportunity or to escape oppression. They seldom migrate in complete repudiation of their roots. The rootless drift, they do not migrate. Therefore when the carvan of Arif Mohammed Khan moves one must establish whether it is a drift or migration. Usually there would be little reason to exert for the right answer because Arif puts a talking' mynah or parrot to shame when he takes flight. But the very dialogue he is so enamoured by, between communities, is so deeply threatened by his pronouncements, that it because imperative to take stock.

Let me try to sum up Arif Khan's thesis, not an easy task. Curiously it is Gujarat that convinced Arif Khan to move to the BJP. Clearly he does not claim Gujarat killings to be an accomplishment of the BJP. He does not even seek to justify or explain Gujarat riots in terms of Godhra. He surely does not agree with Modi's idea that Gujarat was merely protecting its honour. Nor would he applaud Modi's ambition of replicating Gujarat elsewhere in India. Togadia does not even seem to exist for him. So why join the BJP? To teach Congress a lesson. Because it is the Original Sinner' and BJP, the beneficiary. It is strange morality to forego Adam and Eve (the original sinners) and join the serpent, or indeed to desert Sita for crossing the Laxman rekha' and join forces with Ravana. Even in the name of dialogue this is taxing on the imagination.

Approach it a little differently “ the benefits' of the original sin to the BJP are so extensive (India has become communal according to Arif) that there is no point in fighting the BJP. You can't beat them so join them. But what happens next? Of course it is difficult to accept that India is now a full-blown communalised society “ neither statistics, nor the visible reality suggests that. BJP is stronger than before but in vote percentage terms only 26-28% of people of India identify themselves with the BJP and the rest are opposed to it. The Congress too has 26-28% vote of its own. So is Arif talking of surrender and supplication? Is that the best form of dialogue?

Irrespective of relative strengths of BJP and Congress, there are many things about the Congress that worry Arif. Most important one is that Congress did precious little to help the victims of Gujarat. œIt did not put balm on the wounds of the victims Arif Khan has been saying repeatedly. œYou did not even allow you leader to visit Ahsan Jaffrey's damaged residence is his other complaint. œ You gave tickets to 14 persons implicated in criminal behaviour is the most devastating accusation. Whoever said that we did not falter? The shocked initial immobility of the Gujarat Congress should not detract from the remarkable follow up in the relief camps, the extensive work done by Congress volunteers along with NGOs and Legal Aid Groups, the peace march led by none other than the Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi; the truck loads of supplies sent by the AICC, collected by the Youth Congress from all parts of India; the strident offensive of the Congress party in Parliament putting the Prime Minister on the back foot. Khan was himself in Gujarat when this was taking place. He walked with us to Parliament in a show of civil society solidarity. Yet he now-believes that we were wanting in our efforts, indeed so wanting that he should join the BJP. His new party describes Gujarat riots as an aberration. Again, that strains the imagination. But when will the aberration end? The Best Bakery case and Bilkis Bano case surely go beyond aberration to abject surrender of the state to forces of evil and perversion. Will Arif Khan's dialogue begin with the victims before he commences it with the killers?

But Arif is no novice in the art of argumentation. œWhy not speak of Jabalpur, Malliana, and the 1984 riots? he will continue. Indeed why not? There is a standard practice of lack of accountability in riots in our country he argues. But that dose not mean we should not raise our voice against injustice and violence. Furthermore, there is a big difference between not being able to impose sanction and punishment in accordance with the rules of trial we value, and deliberately refusing to allow justice to take its course. H.K.L Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler suffered severe career disruptions because of the allegations of 1984 riots, although ultimately they were exonerated. We cannot give them back their lost years or the election tickets we had denied to them. The BJP on the other hand has given Modi a second term. And Modi is moderate compared to Togaida, who in turn is civilized compared to the killers of Graham Staines. Is a dialogue possible? Its like Churchill sitting down for a friendly chat with Adolf Hitler and telling NDTV that he is hopeful of the return of the gold the nazis collected from the teeth of their Jewish victims!

Finally there is the matter of the invitation to tea. Arif Khan believes that just as he got attention only when he created an alternative for himself (of going to the BJP), all Muslims too should follow suit. The only flaw in that argument is that there was no invitation to him when he went JD, then BSP, then Paswan's party, etc. May be there was something about his inclination to join the BJP that prompted good people to reach out to prevent it. But the tea did not work on him, why should it work on others? But let us understand the intention “ Muslims should threaten the Congress that they will join the BJP only then will Congress heed their wishes. Yet, they should actually join the BJP so that BJP heeds their wishes. Of course in the process they should heed to the BJP's wishes. All conflict will thus come to end, atleast relating to Muslims. Arif Khan can then proceed to do the same for Dalits and Tribals. The story began with his having solved the problems of divorced Muslim women in 1986, it will probably end with BJP being accused of Muslim appeasement. That's a heavy doze of Muslim subjects for a leader who is loathe to call himself a mere Muslim leader.

Salman Khurshid
10/03/2004

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