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Emotional essays

Agnivesh and Thampu write with passion and vigour, but they don't do much to increase one's understanding about the madness that gripped Gujarat, says MUKUND PADMANABHAN.

POLEMIC, as a form of expression, is best suited to the sharp, short essay. It runs the risk of palling when it is stretched to fill the covers of a book, even if it is only a booklet of the size of Harvest Of Hate: Gujarat Under Siege.

There is a passion and vigour about the collection of articles by Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu that make up this book, but they don't do much to increase one's understanding about the madness that gripped Gujarat in the wake of Godhra and under the ugly patronage of those who held the reins of power in the State.

Why did people take to the streets in such unprecedented numbers? What led so many Dalits and Adivasis to participate in the carnage? Since communal riots are largely an urban phenomenon in India, why did the pogrom in Gujarat extend into some pockets of the countryside?

Agnivesh and Thampu provide no answers. In fact they don't even raise such questions, but perhaps this is not meant to be that kind of book at all. But then what kind of book is it?

In part, it deals with Agnivesh and Thampu's experiences in riot-hit Gujarat. It is not clear how many days the authors spent there (at one place they refer to a two-day visit, another reference mentions a "few days"), but their all-too-brief accounts of suffering and scared Muslim refugees and the lack of adequate relief and rehabilitation measures are the most moving parts of the book.

Much of the rest is spent rubbishing the Sangh Parivar, which is very well, but their political worldview is far from clear. Criticism of casteism and vote-bank politics doesn't prevent them from holding up the two Yadavs (Mulayam and Laloo) as those genuinely committed to secularism. Globalisation, which implies "a paradigm-shift from religion to economics", is commended as something that increases distrust in communal politics in one place; in other places, materialism and contact with the West are cited as the reasons for the growth of Hindu communalism.

If there is a chain of argument running through these emotional essays, it is that the Gujarat riots are not a product of religion in its true form but of a debased and politicised kind the Sangh Parivar stands for. Moreover, religion in the former sense is a cement for communal harmony and not otherwise as some modernists and secularists believe. This position is not dissimilar to that of Ashish Nandy, whose distinction between religion as faith and religion as ideology remains one of the reference points in all-intellectual debate on secularism.

Agnivesh and Thampu spend too much time on the dross of Indian politics for a book of this nature — one that emerged out of "multi-religious pilgrimage of compassion" in the wake of the Gujarat carnage.

Somehow, their anger seems to deflect attention away from their compassion. As Harsh Mandar laments in his guest article in the book (the other written by Arundhati Roy), "There are no voices like Gandhi that we hear today".

And that what we really need is to "find these voices within our own hearts".

Harvest Of Hate: Gujarat Under Siege, Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu, Rupa & Co, Rs. 150.

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