Two Anniversaries

After demolishing the Babri mosque twenty-six years ago the saffronites became like the Nazis. All the rules of democracy were turned upside down, making freedom a farce. If freedom means feeling alive, safe and secure all the time, any place or anywhere, then the people of Ayodhya have already lost freedom. The true essence of freedom is having freedom of choice or right to dissent. Come December, the people of Ayodhya get panicky. They are being forced to recall the horror of 1992. 2018 marks the completion of 26 years of that tragic event that shattered the myth of constitutional secularism and equality before law. As per saffron ideologues, it was the beginning of theocratic Hindu India.

But 2018 also marks the beginning of resurrection of 1992 ghosts—a renewed onslaught of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on democracy and secular polity. In a bid to polarise people on communal lines they observed December 6 as 'Day of Valour' (Shaurya Diwas) while announcing a number of communally charged programmes in the coming weeks. Observing December 6 would be followed by 'Gita Jayanti celebrations' on December 18. Meanwhile over 5 lakh people reportedly turned up in Delhi on December 9 under the banner of VHP to attend what they call Dharam Sabha (religious gathering) with a view to clearing all obstacles in the path of construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya. In other words it was a clear message to the nation that they won't wait for the apex court's verdict to settle the Ayodhya land dispute. Lord Ram being a refugee for so long looks restless! He cannot wait any further to have his palatial temple to be built on the ruins of the demolished mosque. They are trying to create a 1992 like situation by continually playing dubious politics of hatred and vitiating the peaceful atmosphere. The storm troopers of 1992 are back on India's streets. Raking up the Temple issue at this stage is in clear defiance of the Supreme Court. It's now more than certain that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot win 2019 general election without the help of Ram as their gospel of development is too stale to motivate voters who have suffered a lot because of Modi's surgical strike on the economy through demonetisation and ill-conceived and hurriedly executed GST. After the sharp decline of their electoral fortunes in five states, including three Hindi heartland states, that went to assembly polls recently, they have no option but to play the temple card to gain political mileage at least in Uttar Pradesh. In truth many have forgotten the mayhem associated with the temple movement. Many have forgotten how the tragic event impacted on the people regionally throughout the subcontinent.

Amidst renewed temple euphoria many have also forgotten 34th anniversary of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. It was the world's worst industrial disaster. 34 years later people living in the periphery of Union Carbide Factory continue to face challenges from water contamination and thousands of tons of hazardous toxic waste still lying exposed in the factory premises. Ironically, Bhopal has won the award for being the country's second cleanest city for two successive years.

Over 6 lakh people were exposed to the leakage of the methyl isocyanate from the Carbide factory on the night of December 2-3, 1984. An estimated 15000 people have so far died due to gas poisoning. Children of third generation of gas victims are now standing on the streets with placards demanding punishment to erring officials of Dow Chemicals and Union Carbide and proper rehabilitation of the sufferers. They mourned the dead and fought for the living.

The way Indian government allowed the American giant to go away with the crime against humanity bordered on abject surrender to the Uncle Sam. The catastrophe called Bhopal gas tragedy will continue to haunt Bhopal residents for generations.

While temple crusaders get currency day in and day out Bhopal seems to be a closed chapter for the persons in power and most political parties, including opposition parties. People have no option but to drink contaminated water. The 34th anniversary of Bhopal gas disaster came silently and went silently, the anniversary was observed only by the survivors. Perhaps for decades people in the gas affected region will have to drink contaminated water as a 2015 chemical test found the water from 240 feet bore wells to be contaminated. The Centre and Madhya Pradesh state government have so far shown total indifference towards the gas affected people of the city.

Right now farmers are making waves across the country, particularly after their successful Nasik- Mumbai Long March. They have correctly raised the slogan that they don't need 'Ayodhya'. Instead what they urgently need is debt write-off. It is equally appropriate for Bhopal gas victims to join the agitating farmers and demand 'right to life', not 'Ayodhya'.


Vol. 51, No.24, Dec 16 - 22, 2018