THE HINDU EDITORIAL  – 20th November 2017

The other side of an election

One of the biggest casualties of the Gujarat elections is memory. The manner in which the polity is remembered and the act of contestation visualised completely erases the riots of 2002. The clerically minded might say that the file is closed, and the Special Investigation Team’s report has cleared Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was Chief Minister at the time. However, I do not think we are talking about the guilt of one man; rather, one is discussing the aftermath of an act of violence and how it filters into the layers of our memory, colouring everyday behaviour. As one reads editorials, it is as if the riots never happened, or people write as if some great act of sublimation or exorcism has taken place. These riots were different. They affected ordinary life and even the mentality of Ahmedabad. In a sense it was a civic and cosmic catastrophe that is regarded as politically incorrect to talk about.

Telling stories

A few small stories from the aftermath might illustrate what I am worried about. The first comes from a concerned mother, a schoolteacher who asked me to talk to her children. She was concerned about the new metaphors and attitudes that had infected them. She had two children, the older was a girl of 12 and the younger a boy of 10. She said every time the two fought, the boy would tell the girl, “If you do not listen to me, I will do to you what Hindus did to Muslims.” The normalcy of rape and murder occupies a different colouration. One wonders whether a society recovers easily from such violence. I remember a driver who was ferrying me around Ahmedabad, a gentle man, 30-ish and extremely informative and helpful. He drove us around the riot-hit areas and would keenly listen to our discussions about our interviews with victims and survivors. A few weeks later he was driving us across Ellis Bridge and he suddenly stopped midway. He said, “I have to tell you something. I was one of them. I joined the crowd during the riots. What should I do?” I was flabbergasted and yet impressed by the honesty of the man. At that moment, I sensed that Gujarat has never returned to normal after 2002. Instead it has followed an artificial process of normalisation, with the victim forced to abandon his sense of loss. A facade of normalcy makes the society feel surreal. It also reveals that 2002 was not an example of the usual ritual of a riot, where victims return to the neighbourhood after a while. Tens of thousands of people did not return to their homes. These riots were also exterminist in nature. They sought the elimination rather than suppression of an ethnic group. There has been an attempt to suppress the narratives of both victim and witness. I remember a woman being asked by a member of an audience in a TV programme why she did not return to normalcy and forget things. She answered, “I want to but you won’t let me.” Probably one of the most ironic and poignant of these stories comes from R.B. Sreekumar, the police officer who took a courageous stand against the regime. He is a gregarious character who loves discussion. His wife told me that every time he went for a walk in Gandhinagar, bureaucrats in the park shied away from him. The stigma of bearing testimony is attached to witness and survivor.

How to move on?

I am not saying that one should not forget, that it is unhealthy to move on. Such memory erodes and can become acidic. But erasure and amnesia are not normal processes. They reveal the ailments of a society that is too quick to accept the logic and rationale of violence. Behind such normalisation is also a sense of fear, a sense that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is too powerful and the dissenter an easily disposable fragment of vulnerability. Yet the communal card is not a tactic the BJP is going to forget, especially as the patina of development wears thin. As Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi becomes unpredictably impressive, as local politicians find usable issues, the BJP might begin to play its old games. In fact, ethnicity has almost been suppressed as an issue, and caste in its multifarious aspects has played out. In Gujarat today, there is a Dalit issue, a Patidar issue, and the BJP has long worked its spell around Mandir and Mandal. But as its Mandal charm wears thin, it might reveal its older and truer colours. In fact, one senses both a fear of talking about violence and a fear of such a violence. As politics changes and the current stalemates wear out, the BJP is bound to be tempted to return to its ancestral self, its attempts at a civility of table manners worn out by this reassertion of its primordial historical self.

The Congress’s abdication

There is a second failure of a more drastic kind, and it is the failure of the word secular. By tacit agreement, it is the new taboo word of Indian politics with the Congress, which once thrived on it, now completely wary of its use. Secularism as an electoral idea seems a nostalgia. It is as if the word secular is a ticket to doom and people are tired of the word and its connotations. The abandonment of the word secular is another epochal but unnoticed moment in this election. The wariness of Opposition parties to use this term is a tribute to the impact of the BJP in rewriting the discourse of politics, and it has also become an index of the cowardice and tiredness of an Opposition which has lost its chutzpah and imagination. The silence of the lambs about broader issues and values has affected the quality of debate in many ways. The election is more a battle of interests rather than a debate about a future vision of society. It is reduced to a numbers game. One senses it particularly around two other silences. First, it is the somnolence of the Gandhian imagination. By beating the Patel drum, a Gandhian frame almost seems secondary to Gujarat. Gandhi appears like a secondary figure in the BJP pantheon. One senses a failure of the Gandhian imagination in confronting Mr. Modi and even a readiness to be appropriated. Second, the silence around the global controversies surrounding the Adani efforts seems intriguing. The controversy around the Carmichael coal mine has become a major environmental and rights issue in Australia but it has created few questions in Gujarat. Worse, the slow appropriation of the coast line raises little tremor of doubt.

The 2019 frame

There is a final element in this narrative. People mention it almost as an afterthought. It is the fear and silences around politics. The BJP is not only majoritarian but seems inevitable for 2019. Dissenters, minorities, many democrats express a sense of fear but as footnotes. My fear is that these events that look like footnotes will one day determine the future of our politics.


1) Casualties

Meaning: A person or thing badly affected by an event or situation.

Example: The building industry has been one of the casualties of the recession.

Synonyms: Victim, Sufferer

2) Aftermath

Meaning: The consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event.

Example: Food prices soared in the aftermath of the drought.

Synonyms: Outcome, Wake

3) Sublimation

Meaning: To express strong emotions or use energy by doing an activity, especially an activity that is considered socially acceptable.

Example: Hostile feelings and violent responses often seem to be sublimated into sporting activities.

4) Exorcism

Meaning: The expulsion or attempted expulsion of a supposed evil spirit from a person or place.

Example: The rite of exorcism.

Synonyms: Release, Purification

5) Cosmic

Meaning: Very great.

Example: The earthquake was a disaster of cosmic proportions/scale.

6) Catastrophe

Meaning: An event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.

Example: An environmental catastrophe.

Synonyms: Disaster, Crisis

Antonyms: Salvation, Godsend

7) Metaphors

Meaning: A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.

Example: The amounts of money being lost by the company were enough to make it a metaphor for an industry that was teetering.

8) Normalcy

Meaning: The condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected.

Example: The office gradually returned to a semblance of normality.

Synonyms: Routine, Lucidity

9) Ferrying

Meaning: To transport people or goods in a vehicle, especially regularly and often.

Example: I spend most of my time ferrying the children around.

10) Flabbergasted

Meaning: Surprise (someone) greatly; astonish.

Example: This news has left me totally flabbergasted.

Synonyms: Astonish, Astound

11) Abandon

Meaning: Give up completely (a practice or a course of action).

Example: He had clearly abandoned all pretence of trying to succeed.

Synonyms: Renounce, Forswear

Antonyms: Keep, Continue

12) Facade

Meaning: A deceptive outward appearance.

Example: Her flawless public facade masked private despair.

Synonyms: Show, Pretence

13) Surreal

Meaning: Having the qualities of surrealism; bizarre.

Example: A surreal mix of fact and fantasy.

14) Ethnic

Meaning: Relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.

Example: Ethnic and cultural rights and traditions.

Synonyms: Racial, Cultural

15) Poignant

Meaning: Evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret.

Example: A poignant reminder of the passing of time.

Synonyms: Pitiful, Mournful

16) Gregarious

Meaning: (Of a person) fond of company; sociable.

Example: He was a popular and gregarious man.

Synonyms: Sociable, Companionable

Antonyms: Unsociable, Reserved

17) Bureaucrats

Meaning: An official in a government department, in particular one perceived as being concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs.

Example: The unemployed will be dealt with not by faceless bureaucrats but by individuals.

Synonyms: Official, Administrator

18) Shied away

Meaning: To avoid something that you dislike, fear, or do not feel confident about.

Example: I’ve never shied away from hard work.

19) Stigma

Meaning: A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

Example: The stigma of having gone to prison will always be with me.

Synonyms: Disgrace, Dishonour

Antonyms: Honour, Credit

20) Erodes

Meaning: Gradually destroy or be gradually destroyed.

Example: This humiliation has eroded what confidence Jean has.

Synonyms: Crumble, Dissolve

21) Erasure

Meaning: The removal of writing, recorded material, or data.

Example: The crucial detail is the erasure of the serial numbers.

Synonyms: Excision, Removal

22) Dissenter

Meaning: A person who dissents.

Example: There was a chorus of criticism from dissenters within the party.

Synonyms: Dissident, Objector, Protester

23) Tactic

Meaning: An action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.

Example: The minority attempted to control the Council by a delaying tactic.

Synonyms: Strategy, Scheme

24) Patina

Meaning: The impression or appearance of something.

Example: He carries the patina of old money and good breeding.

25) Wears thin

Meaning: Be gradually used up or become less convincing or acceptable.

Example: His patience was wearing thin.

26) Multifarious

Meaning: Having many varied parts or aspects.

Example: A vast multifarious organization.

Synonyms: Diverse, Various

Antonyms: Homogeneous

27) Played out

Meaning: Used or seen too many times before so no longer interesting.

Example: The melodrama is a little played out to be entirely satisfying.

28) Stalemates

Meaning: A situation in which further action or progress by opposing or competing parties seems impossible.

Example: The war had again reached stalemate.

Synonyms: Impasse, Standstill

29) Ancestral

Meaning: Of, belonging to, or inherited from an ancestor or ancestors.

Example: The family’s ancestral home.

Synonyms: Hereditary, Inherited

30) Worn out

Meaning: Extremely tired; exhausted.

Example: You look worn out.

Synonyms: Strained, Haggard

Antonyms: Fresh, Energetic

31) Tacit

Meaning: Understood or implied without being stated.

Example: Your silence may be taken to mean tacit agreement.

Synonyms: Implicit, Understood

Antonyms: Explicit, Stated

32) Thrived on

Meaning: To become successful or happy in a particular situation, especially one that other people would not enjoy.

Example: Some couples thrive on conflict.

33) Nostalgia

Meaning: A sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.

Example: I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university.

Synonyms: Remembrance, Recollection

34) Doom

Meaning: Condemn to certain death or destruction.

Example: Fuel was spilling out of the damaged wing and the aircraft was doomed.

Synonyms: Destine, Ordain

Antonyms: Happy, Lucky

35) Epochal

Meaning: Used to refer to times or events that are very important because they involve new developments and great change.

Example: An epochal shift in the global oil market is under way.

36) Chutzpah

Meaning: Extreme self-confidence or audacity (usually used approvingly).

Example: Love him or hate him, you have to admire Cohen’s chutzpah.

37) Somnolence

Meaning: Almost sleeping, or causing sleep.

Example: A somnolent summer’s afternoon.

38) Pantheon

Meaning: A group of famous or important people.

Example: The pantheon of the all-time greats.

39) Tremor

Meaning: An involuntary quivering movement.

Example: A disorder that causes tremors and muscle rigidity.

Synonyms: Trebling, Shaking

Antonyms: Steadiness

40) Footnotes

Meaning: A thing that is additional or less important.

Example:  This incident seemed destined to become a mere footnote in history.

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THE HINDU EDITORIAL- 17th November 2017