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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS - Times of India: 28th March 2002

Javed Akhtar speaks to Ms.Lalita Panicker

Q: Do you see a pattern in all the developments which have taken place in recent times, the Ayodhya, the Gujarat carnage and now POTO?

Answer: Yes, I do because there is an attempt to marginalize and terrorize political dissidents, adversaries and minorities. I share the fears of all liberal and secular people about POTO. The government says it needs a stronger law to fight terrorism but shies away from defining terrorism. Why because any definition of terrorism will make it obvious that VHP and Bajrang Dal indulge in terrorism against minorities. Obviously a government that wants to hide this reality will use this draconian law against minorities.

It is no longer a matter of apprehension, it has already happened. In Gujrat only Muslims were arrested under POTO while in case of others who committed the same kind of heinous crimes not even an FIR was registered! The subsequent withdrawal of POTO in Gujrat and Maharashtra shows how callously this law was used. The withdrawal at either place is not caused by any sudden attack of conscience! Mr. Narendra Modi was forced to step back because his discriminatory actions were becoming a great source of embarrassement to BJP in Centre and its allies. In Maharashtra, those opposing POTO have been accused of double standards, and withdrawal of POTO is nothing but political expediency. We have seen what had happened to another POTO like law called TADA which, thankfully, was ultimately withdrawn.77,571 people were arrested under TADA, out of which about 72,000 were let go because they did not even have a case against them. The conviction rate was less than 2%.

Q: Why do think Gujrat is so prone to this kind of violence?

Answer: Gujrat is the citadel of the sangh. Given an opportunity, they would like nothing better than to turn the whole country into Gujrat. They would love that. Imagine a chief Minister Narender Modi who has drawn a distinction between secular violence and terrorism! What kind of a new term is secular violence?

Q: Do you think it will succeed?

Answer: No, it will not. There is a world of difference between 1992 and 2002. People outside Gujrat today are deeply repulsed and disgusted by what has happened. They are ashamed. I have spoken to people in six different cities after Gujrat. There is a strong sense of disenchantment among different strata of people. I am convinced that their game is over. Now it's a matter of time.

Q: We have reports that Narender Modi is something of a hero in the Sangh.

Answer: That should tell you about the morality and aspirations of the Sang Parivar!

Q: In a recent discussion on TV, you mentioned that the RSS ideologues believe that ultimately the minorities should not be given even the basic right to vote. This was immediately refuted by Uma Bharati, who was also on the same panel with you. Do you still stand by your statement?

Answer: I do. I wish I had my copy of Mr. Golwalkar's book 'We - or our Nationhood Defined' at that moment. Mr. Golwalkar who was the second supremo of RSS and is referred to as Guruji even by Mr. L.k. Advani, published this book in 1939. I came back and verified it again. In Chapter 5, page 48 Mr. Golwalkar says that the minorities may stay in the country, and I quote," wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no priviledges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen's rights.' Uma Bharti's denial was no surprise to me. Truth has always been a dispensable commodity for the members of Sangh Parivar.

Q: What in your view is the ideal formula to solve Ayodhya? We have seen many plans put forward in recent times.

Answer: The government should understand that the fundamentalists of both communities are the part of the problem, and can never be the part of a solution. The government has to understand that the particular plot in Ayodhya does not belong to either the VHP or the Babri Masjid Action Committee. It belongs to the nation. Civil society must involve itself in this issue. Educated, secular and liberal people should come forward to find the solution.

Q: Would you say that this class has abdicated from the process?

Answer: No, the government prefers to talk to fundamentalists. When has it ever talked to any sensible person? My opinion is that civil society should get together and campaign that a national monument be built in that place.

Q: Do you think that 9/11 has had an impact on the way people view Muslims across the world?

Answer: It has nothing to do with what has happened here. These are excuses. The Sangh Parivar's obsessive hatred for the minorities was not born on 9/11. It is much older. We must understand one thing, ultimately their attack is not on secularism but on democracy and it's institutions. This is pure fascism. Look at how Slobodan Milosevic started his cleansing campaign. He dug up the grave of a king called Salazar who had died 800 years ago, and put it in a coffin that was paraded on a chariot through every city. His message was: the Turks came and killed him and now you must take revenge. The concept of time vanished and people reacted as though the incident happened only yesterday. You need an imaginary myth to propagate hatred, and a poor auto rickshaw driver on the streets of Ahmedabad starts looking like the first son of Babar to the violent mob. By the way, Milosevic had used a chariot, in our country they are called ' raths '.

Q: How long do you think this kind of ugliness will last?

Answer: This is the beginning of the end. The Sangh and it's affiliates have exposed themselves. An average Indian cannot stomach such ugliness of thought and deeds. There is tremendous frustration in the Sangh today. It is seeing political power slipping out of it's hands. It's slogans are not creating euphoria anymore.

Q: Do you see a distinction between the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc?

Answer: I am not so sure. In Rajisthan where the state administration moved quickly to prevent any copycat violence, we see the spectacle of the state unit president of the BJP sitting in dharna protesting against the Rajisthan police. On the other hand, in Gujrat, where an unprecedented genocide has taken place, the BJP has expressed it's total satisfaction with the police force, except for some police officers who dared to mention BJP, VHP or Bajrang Dal in their reports. Now, what does that tell you? What kind of police force and what kind of law and order situation suits BJP?

Q: What explains the change in society, this revulsion?

Answer: People change, priorities change, aspirations change. The sangh Parivar is like a mediocre film producer who had given one hit and wants to remake it. The lost and found formula doesn't work indefinitely.

Q: To what extent has minority fundamentalism contributed to the events which have happened?

Answer: The sangh has every reason to thank minority fundamentalists. Their vitriolic and aggressive propaganda has been of the greatest help to the sangh. What have organizations like SIMI achieved besides inviting violence on poor Muslims?

Q: What should ordinary muslims do?

Answer: They are really in an unenviable position. All they can really do is hope to survive in places like Gujrat. Muslims must understand that though many have been butchered in Gujrat, this is not a Hindu/Muslim problem. They must understand that it is a clash of secularism and democracy vs fascism and intolerance. They have to improve their lot by lending strength to secular forces and by becoming more and more secular themselves.

Q: What clout do Muslims fundamentalists have within the community?

Answer: In recent years they have lost a lot of their clout. But what ever clout is left should be fought by the liberal and secular muslims. We must understand that like Sangh parivar represents a miniscule proportion of Hindus, Muslim fundamentalists are also the mad fringe of the socieity. Let us learn to differentiate between the Sangh Parivar and Hindus, and Muslim Fundamentalists and Muslims.

Q: What explains the inaction of the BJP's NDA allies in the face of Gujrat?

Answer: The NDA's allies behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Did they react to the Christian bashing we saw earlier? Did they react when Murli Manohar Joshi tried to saffronize and irrationalize education? They make a hue and cry even as they assure the government that it is in no danger of being toppled. NDA has kept issues like Personal Law, Article 370 and Ayodhya out of their agenda, but the allies cannot hide behind this fig leaf! The fact is that they have failed to play the role of a secular force. The BJP is using them to further it's own ends and if they go along with this, then they will lose any credibility that they have left. When the BJP eventually drops them, they will have no place to go.