Response to Haroon Siddiqui’s tirades against BJP and Hindus in Toronto Star
Dilip Banerjee, Basu Bose, Sitansu Chakravarti , Prabhat Kapur, Azad Kaushik & Vijay Pandya.
[Article History: The authors and fifty nine other Hindu Canadians were involved in the production of this article on July 18, 2015. The group had communications with the Toronto Star (and Ontario Press Council) between July and November 2014. The Star was asked to publish a right of reply in the form of an extended op-ed. However, the request for publication was declined despite repeated request on flimsy grounds in breach of Toronto Star’s journalistic ethics and standards. The article challenges some myths perpetuated and the continual recycling of misinformation that adversely affects the opinion of unquestioning readers in Canada. In view of the Indian Prime Minister Modi’s planned visit to Canada this week, it’s timely that the content of this article is disseminated to the wider readership of the World Hindu News.]
The Star’s columnist Haroon Siddiqui (Haroon) has written a series of columns recently, both before and after the 2014 elections in India. While the amount of column space devoted by The Star to the largest democratic exercise in the world was welcomed by the Indo-Canadians, Haroon’s extremely biased, spiteful, and malicious comments are hateful beyond words, without any basis whatsoever. He writes from the perspective of a man with a tunnel vision, to whom nothing matters except his own coreligionists and their interests. As an individual and a Muslim, he has the right to be concerned about Muslim issues. But journalistic ethics require that he cannot peddle his pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu agenda by abusing his ready access to newspaper space. Haroon has been pursuing his anti-Hindu agenda for a long time using The Star as a convenient medium but his May 2014 columns about elections in India have been particularly vicious.
In his May 14, 2014 column he writes “The…Congress government is set to be toppled… and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party poised to win….a prospect that scares many”. In this and other columns related to the elections, he writes in alarming tones about Hindu nationalism (of BJP) and Hindutva, equating Hindutva with Hindu and “BJP belief in the supremacy of Hindus”. Portraying Hindutva (meaning Hindu-ness) in this manner is utter nonsense. In response to a court challenge against the notion of Hindutva in mid 1990s, the highly respected, fiercely independent, and proactive Supreme Court of India opined that Hindutva is simply a way of life for Hindus and has no connotation of supremacy over any other religion or belief. Unlike Abrahamic religions, Sanatan Dharma (or Vedic Dharma) of Hindus does not preach religious supremacy. Instead, Sanatan Dharma’s message is “sarvo dharma samabhav”, meaning all religions are equal; in our religious discourses, we are constantly reminded that different religions or faiths are like different roads to the same destination: God. Therefore, the notion of religious supremacy is totally alien to Hindus. The BJP and its Prime Ministerial candidate (and now PM), Narendra Modi, never talked about imposing Hindutva on anyone. During the election campaign, Modi made it clear that he is a nationalist and believes in an “India first” policy; he also said that he is a Hindu. Haroon, using his very limited deductive capacity, takes these statements to conclude that BJP and Modi are ready to impose Hindu nationalism (in a pejorative sense) on the whole country. The reality is that BJP has members from all sections of Indian society including Muslims. A Muslim is the party’s official spokesman; it has a minority cell to liaise with minorities. Eminent Indian Muslims, including ex-Editor of Asian Age (M.J. Akbar) have joined BJP. Are these people fools walking into the lion’s den of Hindutva/Hindu nationalism? Only Haroon thinks so and not the Indian Muslims who have rejected this thesis and have voted for BJP in recent elections.
Carrying along his anti-Modi agenda, Haroon claims that Modi “presided over anti-Muslim violence” in Gujarat in 2002. Such accusations against Modi have been proven to be absolute rubbish, yet Haroon carries on with his agenda of demonizing Modi and, by extension, Hindus. Let us consider some facts here: Modi had barely become the Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat in November 2001 when the state was still addressing the aftereffects of a devastating earthquake which caused large-scale damage on its west coast. While he was still directing the relief and recovery work, a most tragic and ghastly incident took place near Godhra train station in Gujarat in February 2002. A 2000 strong mob of Muslims led and egged on by Muslim politicians belonging to the Congress party burnt down two coaches of Sabarmati Express train. Pseudo-secular English language media, left-liberals, and some Muslim groups tried to blame this on provocation by Hindu pilgrims on the train. What was this “provocation”? The pilgrims were chanting “Jai Sri Ram” (hail Lord Rama). If this is a provocation, then every religious chant would also be a provocation for those who do not follow that religion. Even if one thinks of “hail Lord Rama” as a “provocation”, is that reason enough to burn alive 59 Hindu pilgrims, mostly women and children? As the retired Supreme Court Justice “Nanavati Commission of Enquiry” found, after extensive and thorough examination of more than 1000 witnesses, the whole episode was a pre-planned conspiracy by a group of Godhra Muslims led by local politicians of Congress party. Here is a brief quote from the report:
“Commission concluded that there was a conspiracy to burn coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express train to cause harm to the Karsevaks (pilgrims) travelling in that coach. As per the commission, the conspiracy was hatched by some local Muslims at the Aman guest house in Godhra the previous night and the conspirators immediately made arrangements for collecting about 140 litres of petrol from a nearby pump on the night of 26 February 2002. The next day when the train arrived in Godhra, Hasan Lala, after forcibly opening the vestibule between coaches S-6 and S-7, entered S-6 and threw burning rags setting it on fire”.
The Commission report further stated:
“The commission concluded that there was absolutely no evidence to show that either Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat and/or any other minister(s) in his council of ministers or police officers had played any role in the Godhra incident or that there was any lapse on their part in the matter of providing protection, relief, and rehabilitation to the victims of communal riots or in the matter of not complying with the recommendations and directions given by National Human Rights Commission.”
Despite these findings, Modi baiters, mainly from Congress party, their pseudo-secular partners in the paid English language media, and left-liberals continued with their blood libel against Modi. In response, the Supreme Court of India constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under its direction to probe Modi’s involvement in post-Godhra riots. The SIT could not find any evidence that “Modi presided…violence”(Haroon.) When the post-Godhra riots started, Modi went on TV and appealed to the Gujarat public to maintain peace and harmony. He requested the CMs of neighboring states for additional police. At the time, all three neighboring states happened to be Congress-ruled. They refused to send any reinforcements to help Gujarat police. For them, it was a ‘God-sent’ opportunity to tarnish BJP and Modi, human lives be damned. Modi had to ask the BJP national government for army reinforcements. These troops had to be airlifted from other states, as they could not be withdrawn from Gujarat-Pakistan border causing some delay. Nonetheless, the army was deployed within 48 hours of start of riots. Haroon ignores these facts and parrots the story woven by the Indian pseudo-secular brigade that “Modi presided….violence” (Haroon.) In fact, after the riots of 2002 following the Godhra train burning, communal peace has prevailed in Modi-ruled Gujarat for more than 12 years, while non-BJP ruled states have seen many communal clashes.
Haroon quotes three discredited pseudo-secular left-liberals in his May 14 column, one of whom was dismissed from civil service. Another one (Anil Dharker), according to Haroon, is a founding member of “Citizens for Justice and Peace”. Despite its high-sounding name, this organization should appropriately be called “Society for Lying And Perjury” or SLAP. Its chief, Teesta Setalvad, is a notorious liar and cheat who has been censored by the Supreme Court of India for lying and for tutoring witnesses to file false affidavits against Modi by bribing the witnesses. She also has cases pending against her for misusing the funds raised for rehabilitation of riot victims. The third man was inextricably linked to a notorious and corrupt Indian Police Service officer with Congress backing. These worthies, quoted by Haroon, are professional scaremongers whose sole purpose in life is to appear “secular” by denigrating Hindus.
We have much more faith in the integrity of Madhu Kishwar, a social activist based in Delhi. She is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)—a social science research centre. Kishwar is also the Founder Editor and publisher of “Manushi – A Journal about Women and Society” published since 1979. Like other left-liberals, she initially branded Modi a “butcher” after reading newspaper accounts and watching TV discussions. However, Kishwar being a person of great integrity, never writes anything herself before checking all facts personally. So, starting in January 2011, she made several fact-finding trips to Gujarat while Modi was still the CM. She interviewed people across all sections of Gujarat society, including Muslims. The result of her fact-finding mission is that she has published articles and e-book in 2013 debunking lies about him and exposing the fabricated demonizing of the man. We quote a portion of her interview with Zafar Sareshwala, a prominent Muslim businessman from Ahmedabad, Gujarat:
“The charge that Modi hates Muslims or that he engineered the riots to win election has been proven to be bunkum by the enquiries of the highest court. Due to decades of recurrent politically engineered communal riots during previous regimes, Gujarat police and administration were also heavily communalized. Most of these riots took place under Congress regimes, which ruled Gujarat almost without a break until 1995. And yet Modi managed to mobilize all the forces he could to restore normalcy within three days”.
Such a statement from a prominent Muslim businessman from Gujarat exposes the malicious lie peddled by the likes of Haroon. On May 14, Haroon writes in alarming tones that “India, a secular democracy…on the verge of dramatic change”, as if Indian secularism would die with the BJP coming to power. According to the standard definition of secularism, India is not a secular state since the Indian state is involved in matters of religion. Apart from having different civil laws for different religious communities, it practices favoritism towards minorities. Whereas the constitution proclaims that all citizens are equal before the state, in reality minorities have been treated as more equal than others; amongst the minorities, Muslims have been treated as most equal. This is by no means the fault of Muslims. They did not ask for any special favors; the prior governments just bestowed favors on them to garner their votes. A glaring example, among many others, is providing Hajj subsidy to Muslims for traveling to Mecca to perform Hajj. This kind of financial subsidy is banned even in Islamic countries, but the “secular” Indian governments have continued to provide the same at the largely Hindu taxpayers’ expense. Primary beneficiaries of government largesse have been churches and mosques. Other minorities like Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists have been ignored because their numbers are too small as electoral vote banks. This is the kind of perverse secularism that the Indian voter has rejected in 2014. If we take secularism to mean acceptance of other religions without any interference, then it is to be noted that Hindus have always been secular. In fact, secularism of this kind survives in India precisely because of Hindu majority. For thousands of years, Hindus have welcomed and provided shelter to persecuted Christians, Jews, Bahais, Sufis, and Zoroastrians and, most recently, Tibetan Buddhists without any attempt to impose Hindutva on them. Haroon conveniently ignores these facts and cries wolf over impending doom with a BJP government in power.
In another related column Haroon gleefully pointed out a statement by some BJP candidate in the state of Bihar who said “Those not voting for Modi should move to Pakistan”. Modi and senior BJP members immediately distanced themselves from this statement and disciplined the candidate. However, Haroon conveniently ignored the statements made by some Muslim politicians both prior to and during the election campaign. Some of the statements made by Haroon’s co-religionists, as reported by the Indian media, are listed here:
1) Akbar Owaisi, a politician in Hyderabad said in a pre-election speech: “Let the government remove the police just for 15 minutes and the Muslims of India will ‘take care’ of all Hindus”. This provocative and threatening statement evoked no reaction from the “secular” state government of Andhra Pradesh or from the “secular” national government.
2) A Congress Minister, Farooq Abdullah, hailing from the state of Jammu & Kashmir said: “Those voting for Modi should go and jump in the sea”. No reaction from “secular” Congress!
3) A Muslim Congress politician from the state of Uttar Pradesh said: “Let Modi come to U.P. We will cut him to pieces”.
In all such cases, both the state governments and the Congress-led national government did not do anything even though some of the statements amount to sedition.
And when it comes to incidents of riots in post partitioned India, Haroon forgets that the “secular” Congress party was front and centre or complicit in numerous major riots between 1947 and 2012.
While Haroon keeps demonizing Modi, BJP, and “Hindu nationalists/zealots”, he never once mentions the plight of Hindus from the state of Jammu & Kashmir, which is the only Muslim-majority state in India. The secessionist and extremist elements from the Kashmir valley have ethnically cleansed the entire Hindu population from there, with tacit support from the state administration. Thus, roughly 500,000 Kashmiri Hindus (known as Pandits) have become refugees in their own country without any serious effort by the state or national governments to rehabilitate them with dignity. We also find it strange that Haroon has little inclination to express humane concerns for the thousands of victims of terrorist attacks in India since October 2001.
Hindus are not averse to criticism; all we are looking for is some degree of balance and journalistic integrity so that the other side of the picture is also clearly presented to Canadians of all stripes and faith who have a right to know the whole picture.
Source: WHN Media Network
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article /news /published content are the personal opinions of the submitting author / organization. World Hindu News is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article /news/published content. All information received is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article / news /published content do not reflect the views of World Hindu News and World Hindu News does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.