Technocrat Sam Pitroda’s ‘Jo hua so hua’ remark about 1984 anti-Sikh riots have raised a political storm in India. He has not only found himself in the cross-hairs of the ruling BJP but also the target of the Congress, the party he has been closely associated with over the past three decades. In the eighties, Pitroda was chosen by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to lead India’s communication revolution. He is thus credited for kick-starting the country’s telecom revolution. He has also headed India’s National Knowledge Commission and served as advisor to former prime minister Manmohan Singh on public information infrastructure and innovation. But the onerous role he has played in India’s progress has hardly prevented him from vicious political attacks including from his own party for his callous comment about anti-Sikh riots that led to killings of around 2000 Sikhs. Congress president said Pitroda should be ashamed of himself. And going by the repugnant remark Pitroda made he deserved it.
That said, what looks odd is the way both the BIP and the Congress are competing for moral high ground on Sikh riots by condemning Pitroda. More so, the BJP which itself stands accused of presiding over anti-minority pogroms and riots in the country. If anything, the political uproar over Pitroda’s remarks underlines the silence that prevails in India over anti-Muslim riots. While 1984 riots come up recurrently in political discourse in the country and anyone seeming to rationalize it is politically ostracized, the anti-Muslim riots neither come up in discourse nor do their perpetrators suffer any adverse political consequences. In fact, it is the opposite that happens. Those accused of presiding over anti-Muslim riots are rewarded by their political parties but also by their constituencies.
This puts in sharp relief the unenviability of being a Muslim in India. The parties seem to think that being associated with the community is detrimental to their political fortunes. Chary of a political consensus in the country against Muslims, secular political parties are scared to speak in favour of Muslims. And the parties like the BJP and its larger parivar who are the most vitriolic against the community stand to gain electorally.
Truth is India may be constitutionally and electorally secular but institutionally the situation is one of indifference to the idea. Rise to absolute power of the BJP has over the past five years confronted Indias secularism with its most serious existential crisis and also exposed its hypocrisy. India is no longer at a fork in the road as it was during the Narendra Modis 2014 campaign for the prime ministership. We have a country now where the BJP creed has acquired a much wider resonance, forcing the other parties to fall in line. And as this election has underlined there has been no secular fightback, even in its hypocritical avatar Response to Pitroda’s remarks underlines only a selective secularism which takes an uninhibited position against atrocities on one community but doesn’t even remotely talk against the same against another.