Taking sides in Vadodara

BY darius| IN Opinion | 08/05/2006
The more I read editorials, the more I wonder why those who write them are paid so much. Any blogger would do just as well.

You don`t say!

Darius Nakhoonwala

This column comments on the editorials written in the largest newspapers of India. It has always maintained that the writers are very lazy. Further proof of this was available last week when they wrote about the Vadodara riots.

The most important piece of information that the reader needed was the actual age of the dargah that was demolished. He or she also needed to be told what a dargah is. Finally, he or she needed to know whether the municipality had followed due process.

Amazingly, not one of the papers bothered to provide the reader with these crucial pieces of information. The result is that we really don`t know even now how old the dargah - it is the grave of a pious man and not a mosque - actually was.

Some have said more than 300 years old, others have said more than 200 years old and one newspaper said it is only a 104 years old. As for the municipality following due process, it did; it was the High Court that did a strange thing: issued orders on the basis if a report in a newspaper.

Instead, the venerable leader writers focused on what comes most easily off the keyboard: politics.

The Hindu, in fact, wrote two edits. The first straightaway alleged that "the extended communal violence in Vadodara in Gujarat cannot be explained by its immediate provocation: the demolition of a dargah in Fatehpura area by the municipal authorities as part of a road-widening project." According to it, the riots happened because the Muslims have been living in fear since 2002 and the Modi government has done nothing to make them feel better. "Instead, the efforts of the Modi Government have so far been to feed the fears and complexes of the minorities at every available opportunity. Not surprisingly, Muslim residents near the dargah in Vadodara were suspicious of the real intent behind the notice issued by the Municipal Corporation for the removal of the structure — which they claim was more than 300 years old. That three meetings with the residents of the area did not end in any agreement cannot be cited as an excuse for the insensitive and irresponsible manner in which the Municipal Corporation staff and the police handled the demolition." I see.

In the second edit, commenting on the Supreme Court`s stay order on further demolitions, it took a swipe at the Gujarat High Court, whose "order directing the police and other authorities to "take immediate steps for the removal of encroachments by religious structures on public space without discrimination and submit their reports" held the potential for aggravating tensions in communally surcharged Gujarat."

"According to one count, in Ahmedabad alone in 1998 there were 1,200 temples and 250 mosques that were encroaching on roads, while in Surat 40 places of worship had been identified as major encroachments. The High Court felt that the civic authorities, by remaining silent spectators, had contributed to the proliferation of illegal religious structures. Given the way the law and order situation spun out of control in Vadodara following the demolition of a dargah, the consequences of the wholesale and immediate demolition of religious structures ordered by the High Court could well be imagined." I see.

The Indian Express had no clue what to say. So it patted everyone on the back for making sure that we didn`t get a repeat of 2002. "As the nation watched Vadodara burn, there was very real trepidation that Gujarat would slip back to the atavistic 2002 moment. That this did not happen was largely thanks to some timely interventions — by both the Centre and Gujarat`s chief minister." It was by far the most inane edit on the subject but the one in t he Hindustan Times came a close second.


As might be expected, it was full of praise for the central government for getting the Supreme Court to issue the stay order. "Given the communally charged climate in Gujarat, and the lack of any significant effort on the state government`s part to rebuild the climate of trust destroyed in the wake of the Godhra massacre and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, the project to remove a 300year-old dargah was fraught with risk….Under the Centre`s insistence, the state has called out the army and this has possibly calmed the situation." It then talked about the role of the army, for heaven`s sake!


As for the Pioneer, suffice it to say it took the opposite view - severely critical of the central government and totally supportive of the municipality and the state government and Mr Modi. "The Supreme Court`s stay order on Thursday, putting on hold further demolition of illegal structures described as "places of worship", may have fetched a temporary reprieve for fanatics in Vadodara who have nothing but contempt for authority."


The Deccan Herald ignored the subject.




Contact: Darius.Nakhoowala@gmail.com


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