On the face of it, the latest sting operation by Tehelka, also being telecast on TV, appears to expose those responsible for the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in February 2002. But, in fact, to any perceptible mind, the telecast could be aimed at helping Narendra Modi, who is currently fighting a tough battle within the Sangh parivar. The sting has helped revive the communal agenda, which was so pronounced during the state assembly polls in December 2002. And if riots break out again in Gujarat, it will be difficult for both those who carried out the sting and those airing it to absolve themselves of the responsibility.
The continuous screening of past events, and that too on the eve of the Gujarat polls, neither serves any journalistic purpose, nor does it help preserve communal harmony. Even as the state is trying to recover, the sting has revived ugly memories of incidents that are, in any case, being probed by the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission. The screening is bound to lead to a deepening of the communal divide, which may contribute to the improvement of Modi’s electoral prospects. The Gujarat CM must be amused by the fact that while he has consciously stuck to his development agenda, others are helping him out by bringing up an event that had helped the saffron brigade to retain power during the last polls.
While many may give Tehelka a clean chit for its latest exposé, the organisation has, inadvertently or deliberately, played into the hands of media spindoctors close to a section of the BJP, for whom Modi’s return to power is necessary to realise their own political ambitions. With the RSS having second thoughts on supporting Modi, many BJP leaders openly revolting against him and the VHP vowing not to help him, the Tehelka exposé has not only helped the CM, but also debunked organisations opposed to him at present by holding them responsible for the carnage.
One way of looking at the sting is that Modi is not being singularly blamed for the riots, since those opposed to him now are also shown accepting their guilt. Is this an attempt to unite the parivar? But the real question is why the Nanavati Commission is taking so long to reach its conclusions. The commission will find it difficult to ignore affidavits that were filed before the U.C. Banerjee Commission, appointed by the Railways Ministry to look into the Godhra train episode. The latter had concluded that there was no pre-planned attack on the kar sewaks travelling in the Sabarmati Express, and that the fire was, in all probability, an accident.
At present, a new direction is being given to the exposé. Some BJP leaders, part of the L.K. Advani coterie, are accusing the Congress of masterminding the exposé and have appealed to the Election Commission to ban its telecast. They seem keen to keep the issue alive. Gujarat has blacked out the particular channel screening the sting. The end result is that a desired controversy has been created and TRP ratings in the country are up. But on the ground level, polarisation may take place again.
It may be recalled that till the morning of the polling in Gujarat the last time, no one could say with certainty who would win. However, two prominent news channels had focused since that morning on Muslim areas where the turnout was large, juxtaposing the images with those of Modi commenting on Musharraf and his hate-based politics. There was a sudden change post-lunch and heavy voting followed in an already polarised society. The result was 127 seats to the BJP.
Even so, a careful analysis indicated that in as many as 28 seats, NCP candidates had polled more votes than the difference between the BJP and Congress candidates. In other words, if the NCP had been taken on board by the Congress, the result may have been different. But in politics, the winner takes all and Modi got the mandate of the people who, in three earlier polls before the Hindutva experiment was started in February 2002, had voted against the BJP. Thus, all secular forces must sink their differences to take on communal forces, as they did in the 2004 parliamentary polls.
This time, Modi has changed his tactics. While the CM is talking only of development, it’s his supporters who are raking up the Hindutva agenda aimed at polarising society. The timing also coincides with proposals being discussed by the RSS to bring about changes within the BJP. It is being speculated that the RSS may come out with a decision to curtail the powers of many BJP leaders. Indications of this came during RSS general secretary Mohan Bhagwat’s recent visit to Delhi, when he chose not to meet two top BJP leaders and later spoke to only one of them, Rajnath Singh. Things in Gujarat could also get murky for Modi when Uma Bharti visits the state early in November. The Congress, on its part, seems to be lost about its strategy, amidst unconfirmed reports of a prominent leader’s close understanding with Modi. In any case, admitting BJP rebels in the Congress will hurt the party. Its strategy should be to divide the BJP vote rather than include dissidents among its ranks. To counter Modi, who is popular in Gujarat, the Congress would do well to project a credible chief ministerial candidate.
The run-up to the Gujarat polls will witness many charges and counter-charges. But stings like the one being aired are only going to hurt the people, the state and the country. And no election is worth winning if it divides the people. Between us.