Aditya Sinha: Acid test for Modi govt, kool-aid for us
Headley’s deposition or the JNU row hold little political value, but such issues serve to distract people from a likely disappointing Union budget
Delhi’s drawing rooms (Mumbai’s as well) are in rapture. Not only has Dawood Gilani alias David Coleman Headley been singing — like paradigm-shifting gravitational waves, Headley’s testimony proves everything! — but also anti-national rascals at campuses such as the more-Left-than-Mao JNU have been taught a long-deserved lesson. The drawing rooms are happy. Finally, the government is performing!
BJP workers in Allahabad protest against a recent JNU event in support of Afzal Guru, who was hanged for the 2001 Parliament attack. Pic/PTI
It’s been pointed out that most of Headley’s medley of greatest hits is a repeat of what he earlier told federal investigators from the USA and then India; that most of it being “hearsay” lacks value as evidence in court; and even his half-hearted, fully-prompted naming of Ishrat Jehan as a Lashkar-e-Toiba bomber did not exonerate the Gujarat government, police or the Intelligence Bureau (IB) of charges of extra-judicial execution. The only purpose this TV-serial-like daily testimony appears to serve is as anti-Pakistan propaganda; that would only make sense if Prime Minister Narendra Modi weren’t so keen on his counterpart across the border, Mian Nawaz Sharif.
If either the government or court feels there is merit in Headley’s account then there is no logic in pardoning him for his role in the 26/11 attack. Mumbai is still scarred by that event. No tears were shed when Ajmal Qasab was whisked away and hanged in secrecy, though this writer objects to the death penalty, be it against terrorists or rapists, at the risk of sounding seditious. Headley will never be handed over to India, even if he remains in US jails for the full 35 years (he’d be 88 on release), but that does not mean that he should not be accountable for 26/11.
In fact, Headley’s culpability is more obvious than that of Afzal Guru, who was nevertheless found guilty of conspiring to attack Parliament in December 2001, and who was hanged three years ago, much to the chagrin of fellow Kashmiris. The protest against Afzal Guru’s hanging at JNU is currently the eye of the storm, and with Minister Smriti Irani lamenting the dishonour done to Mother India, the police filed a case of sedition. One of the accused is reported to be Delhi University’s Prof SAR Geelani, another Kashmiri, luckier than Afzal Guru in being acquitted in the Parliament attack case; his name in the FIR tells you how vindictive is the cussed Delhi Police.
Going after students makes zero political sense. Not only are they the chunk of new voters, but as an energetic group in any society, they are the ones with passion for action, with skepticism about the status quo, and with idealism about the future. It is not only their Constitutional right to protest, whatever about they want to without being likened to terrorists like Hafiz Sayeed, but it is also in the wider society’s interest to give students a pressure-release valve. Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar are more representative of students up and down the country than Smriti Irani will ever be.
Yet the current milieu dictates that you can’t raise your voice against a wrong decision; that our courts are infallible on terrorism; and that any criticism of Modi is anti-national. Even the BJP’s own Hitler Youth, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), appears to have forgotten its role in resisting in the 1975 Emergency rule by the Congress. And it’s an irony that the hanging being protested was carried out by an UPA government and is now defended by an NDA government, proving that Modi’s regime deserves the moniker of UPA-3.
The mirroring of UPA policy is also evident in Modi’s desire to restart India-Pakistan talks, now a month overdue and counting. Coincidentally, as soon as the shadow of the Pathankot attack receded from public memory, Headley’s neither-here-nor-there testimony has cast its shadow on bilateral engagement. One would think that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is secretly meeting his Pakistani counterpart to get the Foreign Secretary talks back on track, but the irrelevant and legally dubious Headley-medley sends mixed signals.
If the twin events of Headley’s testimony and the JNU crackdown make Modi supporters happy, it cannot be for electoral purposes. The only Assembly election in sight where the BJP has stakes is in Assam, but the state is off-the-radar in much of India and for this, the blame no doubt falls on the lazy Delhi media.
Perhaps Modi hopes to preemptively rally support in face of a Budget that will be presented in two weeks and will satisfy no one. The global economic tailspin and the paralysing debate over ignoring (for another year) the fiscal deficit target leave the government with difficult choices; it has to show a plan other than continually relying on the RBI Governor to save it. And if the Budget will be disappointing then it’s time to break out some more kool-aid in Delhi’s and Mumbai’s drawing rooms. Let them hallucinate good governance.
Journalist and writer Aditya Sinha is the co-author of Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org