Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Orissa: Where has governance gone?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The murder last Saturday of senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmananand Saraswati and four of his disciples in Orissa's Kandhamal district is a matter of concern, just as any such horrible crime perpetrated against any group of people would be. But the Naveen Patnaik government appears to have come up with nothing so far. Instead, it watched helplessly as the Hindutva affiliates, including the BJP, a partner in the coalition government in the state, the RSS, VHP and others, went on a rampage on Monday in seeking to enforce a protest bandh call given by them. They held the entire state to ransom and specifically targeted the Christian community, although fingers in the Saraswati murder case have been pointed at the Naxalites who appear to have a free run in the state.

Five people, including a paralysed man and a 20-year-old girl, an orphanage assistant who could have been a nun, were burnt to death. The others died of asphyxia when their village huts were torched. Churches were set on fire. As saffron activists sought to impose their statewide shutdown, thousands of vehicles were damaged and hundreds set ablaze. All life was brought to a standstill, and the state virtually brought to its knees. It appeared that the Hindutva fanatics had obtained the licence to create mayhem.

No duly constituted authority can countenance such wanton disregard of the law, but the Naveen Patnaik government is guilty of just that. It is indeed strange that the state government is silent on
the Saraswati murder as well as on the gory events during the bandh sponsored by the saffron combine. This gives the impression that the authorities are conniving with the fanatics under political compulsion, for if Saraswati's murderers were to be nailed, it would take away the self-serving justification of the Hindutva brigade that Orissa Christians were instrumental. It is, of course, perverse to seek to punish a religious community even if one of them is actually found guilty. Such logic is not acceptable in a democratic order. If the BJD-BJP coalition is serious about governance, it should make a transparent effort to book those suspected of indulging in Monday's orgy of violence and the murder of the VHP swami and his associates two days earlier. Orissa is acquiring the dubious reputation of being a state in which the Christian community is routinely set upon by Hindutva activists. Churches had been burnt in the state last December also. In January 1999, the world was shocked when Bajrang Dal activists led by one Dara Singh (who was convicted in 2003) burnt to death Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons as they slept. Is Orissa going the Gujarat way: becoming a Hindutva laboratory?