We live in interesting times. And they seem to be getting more interesting by the day as India hurtles towards a defining general election.
The ‘Caravan’ magazine cover story, sensational it as it is, should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. This is something that has been known to just about everyone in the know of things – the government of the day, intelligence agencies and even journalists.
The media is guilty of sitting on the story even when some publications like Tehelka had the courage to reveal the plot and key players a couple of years ago. What the ‘Caravan’ expose does is put the culpability for this breathtaking conspiracy where it belongs – right at the top of the Sangh juggernaut. But look at the amazing reaction it has generated from the media, which tells its own story about the taming of the once fiercely independent Indian media.
Imagine if, instead of Swami Aseemanand, a Muslim cleric had featured in the explosive ‘Caravan’ cover story and he had sung about a grand conspiracy to wreak havoc across the country by attacking sensitive targets. Imagine for a moment if instead of the RSS, ‘Caravan’ had blown the lid off the role of the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Tableeghi Jamaat in spectacular terror attacks across India.
I shudder at the very thought of the swift, overwhelming chain of reaction such an eventuality would have set off – from the government, police and security agencies, media warriors and, above all, from our friends from the Hindutva brigade.
Many of those picked up after the Samjhauta, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer shrine and Malegaon attacks got a foretaste of such infinite possibilities. No one knows how many lives and families were wrecked by the witch hunt, which did not stop even after the arrest of Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragya and others.
The Caravan journalist Leena Gita Reghunath, who spent two years interviewing Aseemanand and working on the story of a lifetime, writes: “Aseemanad’s description of the plot in which he was involved became increasingly detailed. In our third and fourth interviews, he told me that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS – all the way up to Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, who was the organisation’s general secretary at the time. Aseemanand told me that Bhagwat said of the violence, ‘it’s very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh…’
“Aseemanand told me about a meeting that allegedly took place, in July 2005. In a tent pitched by a river several kilometres away from the temple, Bhagwat and Kumar met with Aseemanand and his accomplice Sunil Joshi. Joshi informed Bhagwat of a plan to bomb several Muslim targets around India.
“According to Aseemanand, both RSS leaders approved, and Bhagwat told him, ‘You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved but if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you…’”
Does that leave any room for doubt? Yet the RSS, BJP and their cohorts remain as defiant as ever. ‘Nonsense…lies…fabrication…conspiracy!’ They shouted and outshouted everyone in television debates with the usually rancorous hosts treating them with utmost veneration as if they were quizzing them about some minor domestic discord.
Swami Aseemanand2The fact that the ‘Caravan’ interview was conducted over a period of two years inside the Ambala jail, where Naturam Godse was hanged for assassinating Mahatma Gandhi, and the magazine has produced recorded transcripts running into nine hours and 26 minutes to back its report seemed to make no difference.
In tactics now familiar and used repeatedly and successfully, they have reduced the whole debate about something that involves national security to the fine academic point about the ‘legality’ of such an interview taking place inside the prison. A clever former Mumbai police commissioner cited the jail manual that does not allow such interviews and meetings without the express permission of jail authorities!
The issues raised by Aseemanand’s damning disclosures have not made it to the ongoing national electoral debate either despite the fact that he also directly implicates the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in his shenanigans. He talks of Modi’s blessings in his anti-Christian violence in Gujarat’s Dangs region that coincided with the post-Godhra pogrom of 2002.
What is most disturbing about this whole business is not Aseemanand’s confession – predictably disowned since – or the fact that the RSS may get away with murder all over again. What should be a cause of concern to everyone who cares for India and its wellbeing and democratic, plural character is the fact that the mindset that created men like Aseemanand no longer represents a tiny, lunatic fringe. It has been mainstreamed and may soon take over the reins of the great republic.
The terror attacks that Aseemanand and his group unleashed and the number of lives that they claimed, serious as they were, are a mere footnote to the larger threat that these forces pose to the nation’s future and security.
I know that if in less than hundred days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge in Delhi it wouldn’t be the end of the world or the Idea of India as we know it. This nation, with its fiercely secular and liberal constitution, robust democratic institutions and tolerance of its people is too strong for that.
However, given the ideological baggage and the not-so-secret agenda of the Parivar and men who groomed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate all these years for the top job, it takes no extraordinary imagination to see where the country is eventually headed.
As Dr Aslam Abdullah argues, India will remain a republic committed to secularism, pluralism and democracy but under the new dispensation, the definitions of these ideals themselves would change.
We have seen how Gujarat, billed as Hindutva’s ideological and political laboratory, has been transformed under the Dear Leader. A similar fate awaits the nation unless the rest of the political spectrum, which remains hopelessly divided and directionless, and the reasonable, sensible majority of the country wakes up to the perils that lie ahead.
After sleeping all this while, the Left and regional parties have suddenly woken up to alliance possibilities, two month before the critical election. Is it any wonder then they invite nothing but derision and accusations of political opportunism? As for the Congress, it appears to be in total meltdown.
That is not surprising given the grievous injuries it has inflicted on itself in the past couple of years. If the series of corruption scams, inept response to various crises and uninspiring leadership crippled and bled the governing party and the UPA, its failure to confront Modi all these years is directly and squarely responsible for the predicament staring us in the face. The Congress has just sat there in the face of gathering threat, immobile and frozen like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
But the royal thrashing that the grand old party is all set to receive, as is being foretold by most opinion surveys, is the least of my concerns. The Congress may merely lose power. What the nation has at stake is much more serious and profound. As in the legend of Hamelin, we all seem to be struck by a spell and are marching like children, eyes and ears wide shut, behind our own Pied Piper towards an unknown end.