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Cheap lives and political double standards

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
June 19, 2009 16:59 IST
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It is hard to believe but it has been said on record. Last week, the Congress party spokesperson Manish Tiwari said that the Communist Party of India-Marxist had unleashed "Stalinist" attacks on his party cadre in West Bengal. It appears to want to wear on its armband the status of a victim, quite emboldened by the fact that its new ally, the Trinamool Congress had found ascendancy in the recent past.

This averment by Tiwari was startling, not so much because it was a set of shocking figures but that he was speaking of the past, from 1977 to 1999, when Congress workers were not just murderously set upon but as many as 33,000 of them had been killed. Of course, he was responding to a CPI-M claim that it was itself a victim of 'semi-fascist" attacks from Mamata Bannerjee's party.

There are several dimensions to this set of claims and counterclaims.

One, the Congress, which now lays claim to the concerns of the common man, has remembered the sacrifices of its activists in the cause of the party.

Two, these losses did not count with the Congress when it accepted and survived on the support of the Left which remained outside the government but supported it. The conscience, it appears, was numbed by the attainment of power at Delhi.

Three, now that Mamata is in the forefront battling the CPI-M and Congress is hanging on to her sari's pallu, it can make bold to make such allegations. It suits the party as much as the TC. After all, with a weakened CPI-M has emboldened the lamb and the Congress can afford now to roar.

Lives are cheap and they can be dusted up and trotted out only when a political point has to be scored. Politics!

For the record, we have the Kolkata District Left Front Committee saying that they were condemning the "violent, destructive and undemocratic ways of" the TC. When TC administers the same medicine which was always the part of the CPI-M arsenal, it is natural that the kettle would call the pot black.

It so happens that since the attacks, according to Tiwari, started in 1977, it has to be noted that from time to time, Congress was in power at the centre and sometimes with unprecedented majority. Had it chosen, it could have arm-twisted the CPI-M to ease off. It never managed to do quite that.

Politics, you see, is after all full of opportunistic positions. What I do is always right. If you do the same thing, it is awfully bad! Even Sitaram Yechury, forever the suave and articulate voice of the CPI-M in New Delhi called it, yes, "semi-fascist", nothing less.

What should be gall is not so much the CPI-M and TC's war where bloodletting would be natural consequence because the stakes are high but the small value that the Congress placed on the 33,000 lives. It is not that some clerk in the Congress headquarters found the statistics tucked away in some forgotten corner of its documents but it was resurrected now.

It is quite likely that people lost lives in West Bengal's muscle-driven politics which is claimed to be ideology driven. But it does not lie in the mouth of the Congress to take such a moral high ground of an aggrieved party. It did not matter to it at all that several hundred Sikh lives were lost in Delhi in 1984. The forget-and-forgive norm sought to be applied to 1984 riots does not seem to apply to other episodes of the same type -- like the post-Godhra riots.  

It is apparent that double standards apply. The lives lost, it seems to me, have a meaning only depending on who claimed them which is absurd. No, this is no defence of Gujarat and Narendra Modi but what measure you use for yourself ought to be used for others as well. The political morals are in question because both the anti-Sikh riots and the post-Godhra riots because two yardsticks are applied.

There cannot be different sauces, one for the Congress and another for others if this country has to begin to respect human lives.

So it was alright  that the Congress activists lost lives in their battle against the CPI-M and the CPI-M was the perpetrator but it did not count at all when the two parties had to sleep together to secure and sustain power at the Centre.

Double standards and double speak seem to be the order of the day.

Let me hark back to a press conference which Brinda Karat had addressed in Mumbai in May 2003. She was not even a politburo member then but spoke for her party. She was speaking on the Janata Dal (United), the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal which, according to her had "lost their credibility" by not supporting the bill to provide 33 per cent reservations to women in Parliament.

Why am I talking of women's bills when I started off with the lives said to have been lost in West Bengal? Because, I'd like to illustrate the point that double standards has become the norm in public life, even on crucial issues.

Several examples can be cited, but this should suffice to underscore the point.

To her, these parties, by their anti-women stance, had shown that their social welfare platforms were "sectarian" in nature. But it took some questioning to get to her to admit that because at the press conference, she was out to lay the blame at the National Democratic Alliance's door for not "securing the passage of the bill." It was altogether a different matter that at least two parties were in cohorts with the Left.

It had to be pointed out then that the government had made its moves but the political parties and their MPs had to find the support for such a landmark bill to convert to an Act. The flaw lay so much in the parties which had no social agenda that was supportive of the quota bill.

The purpose of citing this is not so much to bail out the NDA which has its own set of serious flaws but to illustrate the constant resort to double standards which the media now persists in not making public because it is politically not correct to do so. Even the Manish Tiwari statement was buried in remote corners of newspapers – not many reported it though – and I have not seen any contradiction so far.

Earlier, it was blatant lies that were spoken and absurd things said and it got into the media, without comment. Then came the era of spin doctors holding forth and seeking to dominate public debate, giving stuff the kind of twists they chose for the public to lap up. Politics is limited to statements.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Mumbai-based commentator and former deputy editor, The Hindu

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