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Teesta Setalvad: Modi’s Silence on Attacks on Minorities Shows Tacit Consent

Narendra Modi led NDA government is about to complete its one year in power. This period has seen a rise in communal attacks and hate speech against minorities, posing a  threat to secular ethos of the nation. These are not isolated incidents or the pronouncements of a lunatic fringe. Modi’s ministers and parliamentarians have been spreading venom through such comments. Newsclick discussed these issues with Teesta Setalvad. Teesta explains that how this government is controlled by right wing fundamentalist groups like RSS and Modi’s silence on such incidents should be read as his consent. On question of saffronisation of education and culture, Teesta explains that culture and education have been important as tools for building fascism and this is what we are seeing today, with active government support. She feels that all the progressive and secular forces should come together to resist the Modi government's agenda to communalise society.

Prabir Purkayastha (PP): Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today, we are going to discuss one year of Modi government's role and what  it has done for the Indian people. What are the kind of attacks that are taking place on minorities. Some kind of a accounting if you will for one year of governance. We have with us Teesta Setalvad who is a well known activist and who has been taken up particularly the Gujarat riot victim cases. Teesta, good to have you with us and how do you evaluate Modi government's one year rule particularly with respect to what's happening with the minorities, the kind of attacks they are saying. What is the role of government in all these.

Teesta Setalvad (TS): 292 seat majority for a government which is essentially run by the RSS, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh runs this government and that is so evident in their educational and cultural thrust, the way it is kind of pushing a completely majoritarian agenda in the area of history and culture and much more importantly or as critically on the issue of law and order and home where I believe deep seated insecurity in the India's minority. It's not just Christians and Churches not least in Delhi but the minority Muslim community, other community who really feels this is not the government to represent us. You see a very important incident took place in Baroda, Varodra a couple of months ago and it is very ironic in todays media driven consciousness it never makes to the national television. 275 Muslim families after been allotted a plot in a certain area in Sayaji Nagar were not been allowed to go there simply because neither the administration nor the Hindu owners want them there. Now, this is in Vadodara, this is happening and it does not cause a national outrage.


PP: You raised two issues. One is the kind of attacks on minorities physically, if you take that first. The argument is given by some that some Modi is okay, he is not the one doing it. It's lunatic fringe which he should speak out against. How do you see the relationship between the so called lunatic fringe which is really the bulk of the activists of the VHP, the BJP, the RSS and so on and the government. How do you see this relationship?

TS: A bulk of this lunatic fringe statements which we have seen and since last July onwards are not happening by the Tehsil level, Zilla level worker of the VHP or the Bajrang Dal but by Parliamentarians. Now my question is that Modi is the leader of the BJP in Parliament, he is the head of the government, he is the Prime Minister, it's a collective responsibility, we have a parliamentary system. So how can you when Sakshi Maharaj, or when a Sadhvi Niranjan whatever her name is or the other Sadhvis …


PP: She is a minister.

TS: Yeah, she is a minister. Not just a parliamentarian but she is a minister. When they make statements like we have forcible sterilization of the Muslim community and Christian community, we will ensure that there is secondary citizenship. Sakshi Maharaj even said after the Global Hindu Foundtion which is an FCRA driven entity from New York wrote letters to Smriti Irani that Nathuram Godse should be treated as a freedom fighter and Sakshi Maharaj repeated that and then he had to apologize. So I mean when all these things are happening not just down there in Gazipur or Mhow or Vadodara, but right there being stated there by parliamentarians, Adityanath the worst of all from Gorakhpur and Modi is quiet and I don't believe a man who boasts of a 56 inches is supine, so he is quiet for a reason and normally silence means consent.


PP: We have also seen in a lot of areas where election are impending or happened or going to happen, we have a background of communal violence. UP of course, the parliamentary elections, Muzaffarnagar riots were very clear example. Do you think this agenda now in UP is actually not succeeded taking into consideration what happened recently in Shamli and people are beginning to see it through the agenda of trying to rouse communal violence in order to help electoral arithmetic?

TS: I would like to hope so but I am little wary of jumping to that conclusion. Really happy that Shamli and Kandla diffused so quickly I think administration also has to be praised for that as also some other responsible citizen of those cities. But you know what really worries me is the lack of assertive and  active involvement of the parties that are not RSS or the BJP. But here it is not the Samajwadi but the BSP, the Congress and the Left, all of them nned really to step up the discourse because as worrying as this communal majoritarian discourse is an Owaisi kind of discourse and that also succeed in further politicization. The kind of television space that an Owaisi is getting even in those channels that are clearly promoting the ruling party's agenda raises many many questions. Now, if the thing is if you listen to Owaisi purely objectively he said many things that appeal to a young Muslim because many others they find in the secular parties not articulating strongly enough those sentiments. So there is a huge gaping hole which needs to be filled in a rational manner and I don't know from where the politics to fill it is going to come from. PP: You talked also about agenda with respect to education and with respect to culture. Taking up education first. What are the basic elements that you see of the majoritarian agenda or even what I would call really the right-wing Hindutva agenda in terms of education.

TS: You know we have seen all over the world any proton-fascist majoritarian politics survives on a complete manipulation of history and that's what this government is trying to do. There were attempts made during the first NDA regime with the value education. Murli Manohar Joshi tried to push through value education but then you had a coalition you had even coalition partners including Chandra Babu Naidu etc. walking out of that meeting, historic meeting. Today you have an ICHR which is run by a man who wants to date the Mahabharat and Ramayana. Well, extremely serious historians who have great respect for these epics and what they tell us about the social and economic history of times know that those epics can't be dated. There is a scientific reason for it. History is also something that you have to understand rationally. You have a Prime Minister who tells us head of the much loved god, who is a part of our life is because of plastic surgery. He doesn't even use grafting. You know it is technologically psychic challenged term. So the fact that we don't want to rationally discuss our own civilizational contributions to the world which have been many, which Al Baruni has recorded, which many many scholars from here and there had recorded.  But this extreme desire to root and date everything to very upper caste Brahmanical reality is something that the agenda of this government is about. It is the same one that wants to build temples to Nathuram Godse, destroyed the files by the way of the Home Ministry related to Gandhi's assassination. We don't even know whether those files exist anymore. 11000 plus pages were just destroyed. An RTI activist who tried to gain access to which files were destroyed are not getting answers.

PP: So this is one part of majoritarian agenda. There is also a very strong cultural agenda which has come out for instance on Murugan not being allowed to write and he has given up writing as a consequence, attacks on different cultural figures,  Ananthamurthy. So there are different kinds of attacks on cultures. So how do you see this part of the agenda?

TS: You know the absolute greatness about our histories and our cultures, the diversity that we all love to celebrate has been the constant questioning of any absolute reality and different realities that have been posed by different sections of our society. The caste issue has always been very extremely factious something which even today you will see a debate between the Gandhians and the Ambedkarites and who dealt with caste, how. But essentially when you talk about two Tamil writers who have been brutally targeted what were they dealing with? They were dealing with actually relationships which were cutting across castes. Somehow what can not be tolerated by the dominant castes is a woman from their 'caste' ever been property of another caste and that is something that can not be stomached.  So whether it is that or whether it is entire love jehad propaganda after Muzaffarnagar, it is all  centred around women as a property of the dominant community or caste and her body then  therefore being under the control of that community. That is very much part of this majoritarian fascist agenda.

PP: You know Teesta the other argument which is being raised by the cultural practitioners is that today we are not looking at state as an agent of censorship. The agency has shifted to 'a set of people' who use muscle power to muzzle the cultural activists. Physical attacks as you saw on Bhandarkar Institute of Shivaji, what happened to Murugan a Tamil writer and so on. So you are really getting into mob censorship and that's also a part of the very much majoritarian agenda. Isn't it?

TS: Absolutely. I mean you saw this in various ways before Gujarat 2002 happen whereas a certain climate is developed M.F. Hussain being the key bar of course. The artists even after 2002 happened, the young artist in the Baroda M.S. University were put up certain paintings, he was completely demonised etc. this is a constant recurring phenomenon. In fact, if you look at in a four five levels, the way this communal majoritarian agenda works, there are tax on the lives and properties of the minorities for sure, there is an attempt to take over and appropriate education and culture and there is this moral policing that you see. You create entire bodies, violent people who are into moral policing. So whether pub attack in Karnataka or whether it is different kinds of... girl and young women are targeted because they are going to pub. The idea is you let loose this people who are not answerable to the rule of law

PP: Last question. What is your message or how to resist these kinds of attacks? What should the secular forces in the country do, particularly activists in different areas?

TS: One thing we need to be prepared for is a very bitter state reprisal action like some of us  have been facing. Vilification and maligning in public arena and therefore, the utmost singular challenge for us is to stand together because even if we disagree on certain views, I think we need to stand together  and build up a resistance at several levels. I think excellent work is happening on different fronts all over the country but somehow I feel the real need to have an organisational link up. I am not talking very tall order here but without that I think we will always fall short

PP: Thank you Teesta we will continue to discuss various issues with you. I am sure we will have more occasions given by the government and support base it has. Thank you very much.


TS: Thank you. 




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