WITH all due respects to the Gujarat High Court, I beg to differ with its judgment that the firing by Ehsan Jafri provoked the mob to kill him. I knew him and he was a staunch Congressman. The Gulbarg Society massacre was the doing of local Gujarati leaders hoping to parochialise the people. When Jafri was surrounded by the Hindu mob, he rang me up, seeking my help to rescue him from the frenzied crowd he had around him. I rang up the Home Ministry in Delhi and told them about the telephone call. They said they were in touch with the state government and were “watching” the situation. As I put down the telephone, the bell rang again and Jafri was at the other end, beseeching me to do something because the mob was threatening to lynch him. His cry for help still resounds in my ears.
I admit I could not do anything beyond ringing up the ministry once again. Therefore, the court’s verdict that Jafri provoked the crowd is misplaced. It is a travesty of justice. But then the Bench is not to blame because it has to go by the evidence placed before it. The prejudiced police had neither done their job, nor homework thoroughly, and so the court had come to the conclusion that the provocation came from Jafri.
I hope the matter will come up before the Supreme Court and the real facts may emerge for the knowledge of the wider public. This is important because the general impression is that Jafri was to blame. The tragedy is that even the judges have now been taken in by the sordid job done by the police. India is a pluralistic state and it is ruled by the Constitution which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in the Constituent Assembly together had adopted.
It goes to the credit of leaders of the national struggle that they adopted a secular constitution although the population of Hindus was an overwhelming 80 per cent. The Hindu Mahasabha which gave birth to the Jan Sangh could not even return 10 members to the Lok Sabha. The party has, in fact, improved its position and today commands a majority in the House on its own. It has 262 seats in the Lok Sabha, guaranteeing it a clear majority. Close allies like the Shiv Sena have added to its strength.
What plagues India is that the government apparatus reflects the ideology of the party in power. This applies as much to Congress as to the BJP. Even the communists are not innocent. How we reconcile these shortcomings with the rule of law is the biggest problem that the nation faces. Since all political parties are culpable, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, the main onslaught today is against the minorities and the marginalized. If the rule of law is not maintained, all members of the society are vulnerable and will be victims one by one. The enemy phobia will be sustained. Today the Muslims are to blame; tomorrow it will be the turn of some other members of society. Where will it end? There is no option from the rule of law.
Fortunately, some activists are still trying to bring democracy back on the tracks, but the atmosphere has become so polluted that their job looks tremendous and almost impossible. Ultimately, parliament is the arbiter. The nation will have to see that it elects such people who have faith in the rule of law and the Constitution which came into being from 1950.
In fact, there were many options before the Constituent Assembly. Adviser B.N. Rao, who had gone around the world to see various systems in operation, placed before the advisory committee of the Constituent Assembly the presidential form of government pursued by America and the one followed by France. Jawaharlal Nehru, whose ideas prevailed at that time, preferred the parliamentary system. It is alleged that his education at Harrow and Cambridge had moulded his thoughts. That may well be true but he wanted a system where every adult would participate.
In the Constituent Assembly, Dr Rajendra Prasad, who was in the chair, wanted some educational qualification as a requirement for voters. Nehru replied that the uneducated and the ignorant constituted the main force which fought during the independence struggle. Now when the country was free, should he tell them that they were not entitled to vote? Another principle which goaded the movement was secularism. This was embodied in the Constitution which gives one person one vote, whatever their community’s strength in the country. It may be unthinkable today in certain circles of society, but the representatives of the majority community accepted this principle.
So much so that the Muslim community’s leaders Constituent Assembly refused to have reservations or quotas in the legislatures, educational institutions and even in government jobs which they had enjoyed under the British. This is the practice even today. Still the prejudice has worked in jobs in the private sector. Very few Hindu establishments have Muslims as their employees. In fact, the Sachar Committee appointed by Dr Manmohan Singh, then the Prime Minister, has said that the condition of the Muslims in India was worse than that of Dalits. Very little improvement has been noticeable since then.
Regrettably, the judgments like the one in the Jafri case could only provide the Hindutva crowd with a justification that aggressiveness of Muslims forces the Hindus to adopt a communal line. Maybe, I am overly optimistic, but I still hope that the society would realize on the whole that a country with so many complexities can survive in a pluralistic and democratic alignment. People will themselves see the incongruity between the values of the Constitution and what is being practised otherwise. Pluralism is not only an ideology to prize, but also something to cherish that it is needed for the country’s integrity.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.