Tuesday, Apr 09, 2002
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THE SURGE OF intolerance and lawlessness sweeping across Gujarat since the Godhra massacre, even as a defiant Narendra Modi regime has remained negligent of its basic constitutional responsibilities, has touched new heights, with the hallowed Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram witnessing mob raids and police action on Sunday that has left at least a dozen media personnel on duty injured. It was shameful enough that the State which was the birthplace of the apostle of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi has been seeing for the past five weeks and more an unrelenting spiral of communal violence, which has at the last count taken a toll of over 700 and turned about one lakh people most of them belonging to the Muslim community into "refugees in their own land", as evocatively put by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Now, the fact that the precincts of the very institution that quintessentially represented the entire gamut of noble values that Gandhiji stood for and which has all along remained a haven of peace and brotherhood has been `desecrated' by a hate mob has inevitably heightened the sense of shame the mindless orgy of communal violence in the State has brought upon the nation.
Apparently, the presence of Medha Patkar, whose ceaseless campaign against the Sardar Sarovar Dam has engendered an anti-Gujarat image, at the `peace meeting' in the Sabarmati Ashram was what the saffronites-dominated crowd was protesting. A laudable and much-needed initiative by a band of Sarvodaya activists and well-meaning individuals, the meeting was, by all accounts, an informal affair and, as such, the question whether Ms. Patkar was there by `invitation' is hardly relevant. That her participation should have evoked a palpably aggressive protest is in itself a measure of the intolerance which has come to increasingly permeate civil society because of motivated divisive campaigns of various denominations. In any case, to set the whole episode in the Narmada dam context and dismiss it as nothing but a Ms. Patkar-specific protest is to take a myopic view of the event. It has necessarily to be seen against the backdrop of the media reports speaking of systematic attempts by the hate campaigners to scuttle all peace initiatives through not-so-subtle intimidatory pressures.
No less reprehensible was the police personnel's highhanded action against the journalists present at the Ashram, the electronic media coming in for a particularly harsh treatment, for obvious reasons. Of late, the political class, particularly that segment which happens to be in power, has grown intolerant of press criticism and, by extension, has tended to accuse it of `irresponsibility' whenever the ruling establishment finds the ground reality as reflected in the media scrutiny discomfiting and embarrassing. And Mr. Modi is no exception; he blamed the media for fanning the riots in Gujarat, before coming up with his profound thesis that normality would return once the Parliament session ended! Such open denunciation and sometimes intimidation of the media by the powers that be, apart from undermining the democratic right to freedom of speech and expression, also inevitably translates into excesses at the cutting edge level, as it happened in the Ashram. In a way, the Sabarmati episode the highhanded action by the police against the mediapersons together with the planned disruption of the peace initiative, even as the uniformed men were watching amounts to belittling Mr. Vajpayee's exhortation to the Modi administration to uphold Raj Dharma.
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