Photograph of VT Joshi

Author - VT Joshi

“A MONKEY plied with liquor and bitten by a scorpion”—that is how an old Kannad saying describes the behaviour of an utterly irresponsible, erratic person. A wag recalled it the other day with reference to the continuing antics of the likes of Pravin Tagodia nearly two months after the stunning results of the Gujarat assembly elections.

Equally stunning is the unrelieved attraction his antics still hold, particularly, for the electronic media which seems to revel in the monkey tricks to regale the viewers and enhance the ratings. Are these TV shows really meant to debunk and expose the fundamentalists and extremists or to enhance their presence and influence? That is a big question, which must engage the attention of the people. Interestingly Pravin Tagodia himself seems to have answered it in his own inimitable, crude style. Karan Thapar, an aggressive TV interviewer, quotes Tagodia to say “Agar secularist media mere peeche na padti to mujhe kaun jaanataa?” (Who would ever know me if the secularist media had not been after me?) Is it not significant, coming from the horse’s mouth, as it were, though some may say monkey’s. It is quite arguable that the media, both the electronic and print variety, is only exposing the extremists. Nonetheless, on the flip side, it cannot be denied that the effect is inevitably one of promoting them.

To give an analogy at a slightly different level, which some may consider rather uncharitable: When the media shows and the press writes repeatedly about the exploits and depredations of the likes of Veerappans or dacoits like Mohor Singhs and Madho Singhs who once ruled the Chambal valley, it has certainly the effect of “lionizing” the bandits who have long held the society to ransom. Veerappan and its familiar mustachioed image on TV screen is the most recent example.

Thus it is pertinent to ask if, even two months after the shocking results of the Gujarat elections, the electronic media is not doing a great disservice to the country by continuously showing Tagodia’s atrocious tricks and trite remarks which the print media religiously picks up the following morning.

The results of the Gujarat Assembly elections have no doubt stunned the nation. They call for deep and dispassionate reflection. After the passions of the moment cool down it will be time for all political parties to sit up and think and think hard. Instead of merely injecting venom into the body politic to match the virus of Modi-Tagodia-Singhal and Co., the parties would do well to do some hard thinking. If they do so, it will be realized that it was not the so-called Hindutva that won the day in Gujarat but it was Tagodia brand of communalism that triumphed. Rather Modi- Togadia brands of brutalized Hinduism.

Two factors influenced the Gujarat results in no uncertain manner - One, the worldwide apathy towards Muslims after 9/11. Two, Pakistan's insidious inspiration to relentless terrorist activity through out the period. It spurred Narendra Modi's "Mia Musharraf" rhetoric and helped his brand of politics to consolidate in his favour the usually divided Hindu votes in a big way.

There was yet another factor. That was Modi's constant chauvinistic refrain of "Gujarati pride", a-la-NTR. Modi has imitated exactly what celluloid hero N.T. Rama Rao had done to capture political power and become chief minister of Andhra Pradesh 20 years ago. Bringing all his histrionic talent into full play in the 1982 poll campaign, NTR relentlessly focused on the alleged loss of "Telugu pride" to arouse parochial sentiments of the people after the then Andhra Chief Minister Anjeyya was publicly humiliated at the Hyderabad airport by Rajiv Gandhi who was AICC General Secretary at that time. Modi also lost no opportunity to stir Gujarati emotions after the post Godhra carnage that had defamed him all over the country and abroad.

Incredible as it may seem, it should also be realized that constant and often mindless chanting of the slogan of "secularism" and its "pseudo variety" by parties inimical to the BJP because of congenital prejudices, has only helped to keep a virulent form of communalism alive.

The secularists, or if you prefer pseudo-secularists, of the left variety have also been unfairly criticizing the Congress party for practicing what is called its own brand of "soft Hindutva". Does it mean that the Congress party should keep constantly "abusing" Hindus all the time to "appease" Muslims in order to prove its “secular credentials”? As indeed all the parties are doing in varying shades and degrees in their game of vote politics. In fact the BJP is no exception and is playing the same dangerous game while it keeps pampering and sheltering likes of Modi and Togadia.

While we condemn and criticize the antics of drunk monkeys stung by scorpions, let us also take a hard look at all those who have given a bad name to secularism and have equated secularism with Muslim-appeasement. The moderates, who form the silent majority in the country, need to ask themselves if they can afford to let extremists of Modi-Togadia variety or of secularist variety hijack the mind of the country.

VT Joshi

14 February 2003

VT JOSHI (1925-2008) worked for more than fifty years as a journalist. He retired from THE TIMES OF INDIA in 1989. During 1985-89 he was the Special Correspondent of THE TIMES OF INDIA in Pakistan. His books "PAKISTAN: ZIA TO BENAZIR" and "INDIA AT CROSS ROADS" (co-author GG Puri) were widely reviewed in both India and Pakistan.

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