Can The Real Shekhawat Ever Stand Up?

By Subhash Gatade

“There will be a Gujarat-like situation in Rajasthan if the State Government did not stop its ‘appeasement of Muslims’ and ‘anti-Hindu’ policies.”

– Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, former Rajasthan chief minister, Gangapur on 23 April, The Hindu, 30 April 2002.

THE elections for the post of the president of India have rather opened up a free for all. The saffron sympathetic journos in the media have rather taken upon themselves the onerous task of excavating the past of the UPA candidate.

But in this rigmarole for the post of president, the other contestant for the top post Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the present incumbent to the post of vice-president, has saved himself from any scrutiny. And despite being in a miserable position as far as game of numbers was concerned, he seems happy smiling, receiving accolades from unknown quarters for his ‘secular’ credentials. The other day Maulana Madni, who was with Uttarakhand Congress till recently and who had to quit his post because of pressures put by the fanatic elements of the Hindutva brigade even went to meet him and declare his support for him for being the only fit candidate for the post.

Nobody, except for a few honorable exceptions, seems to recapitulate Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s highly controversial statement warning the state government to desist from ‘appeasement of Muslims’ if it wants to avoid a ‘Gujarat type situation’ when the genocide in Gujarat was on. And nobody seems to remember the manner in which he graced the occasion of the birth anniversary celebrations of Golwalkar, the second supremo of RSS, while he was still a vice president of India. People very well know that M.S. Golwalkar, was a strong supporter of ethnic cleansing done by the Nazis which he openly glorified in his book ‘We Or Our Nationhood Defined’ (1939), who yearned for a Manusmriti like regime which condemned dalits and women to a secondary status and who opposed the making of constitution under the leadership of the legendary Dr Ambedkar and had strongly contended that Manusmriti be made the new constitution of independent India. Golwalkar’s highlly dubious role at the time of partition wherein he even instigated violence against the minorities is also a well-known fact.

In his message to the special issue of Organiser on Golwalkar, Shekhawat wrote :

Shri Guruji was a staunch nationalist and an impassioned patriot who had contributed immensely in varied spheres of nation building activities with great distinction. A scholar of eminence, he symbolised the Sanatani ideals. Guruji dedicated his entire life for the enduring welfare of the country and the people. (March 26, 2006 Organiser)

Interestingly most of the secular-democratic formations have not deemed it necessary to take a look at the five decade old political career of Mr Shekhawat to see for themselves how his ‘moderate’ image has helped strengthen the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the Sangh Parivar in the polity and society of the state. It appears that they have also been carried away by the supposedly impartial handling of the upper house by Mr Shekhawat or the media-savvy soft spoken image of Mr Shekhawat, who it is known was successful in engineering cross-voting from the then opposition camp during elections to the post of vice-president held in 2002.

On the other hand a concerted attempt – with due support from the saffron journos – seems to be on to present him as an ‘apostle’ of secularism and a man who with his ‘impartial handling’ of the upper house has become a logical claimant for the top post of the Indian republic. And these people have received ready help from some elements in the Muslim community who are batting for him to settle their personal scores with Congress or who want to demonstrate their disenchantment with the growing soft hindutva streak in its politics.

It is clear that three time chief minister of Rajasthan (June 22, 1977- Feb 16, 1980, March 4, 1990- Dec 15, 1992 and Dec 4, 1993- Nov 29, 1998) and leader of opposition for a considerable portion of the remaining period, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat can be said to be the central figure in the development of BJP-RSS in the state. If today the state appears to be a bastion of Hindutva politics where minorities are under growing attack, civil society has no qualms in practicing caste apartheid and the bureaucracy finds itself highly communalised, his role in this transformation needs to be underlined..

One still remembers the November 1997 issue of Communalism Combat wherein it had exposed the growing violence against women in Rajasthan under BJP rule. The then BJP chief minister, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and his deputy chief minister, Hari Shankar Bhabhra, had justified incidents of rape, acid throwing and molestation. (‘Why talk of humans, even gods cannot be sure of a woman’s character’— Bhabhra).

Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s continued protection of obscurantist values is evident from many actions. People’s Democracy (September 22, 2002) had underlined :

Along with the ruling political elite, the administrative machinery too is permeated with a deep-rooted bias. When Roop Kanwar was burnt alive in 1987, top political leaders like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Rajmata Scindia and some state government officials had visited the site to offer their prayers.

The year 2001 was witness to the serious attempts on part of the BJP-RSS to replicate the Gujarat model of Hindu Rashtra in the then Congress ruled Rajasthan. And the most ominous had been the ‘Trishul Diksha Samarohs’ organised by the Bajrang Dal through which such trishuls which were in fact Rampuri knives were distributed in lakhs. In public meeting the then chief minister Ashok Gehlot had charged that more than 40 lakh trishuls have been distributed in different parts of the state. It was for everyone to see that government agencies, administration as well as the police had come under severe strain due to the well coordinated actions and campaigns by RSS, Shiv Sena, VHP and Bajrang Dal which was aided and abetted by the parliamentary wing of the Hindu extremists — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Teesta Setalvad had quoted a leading journalist in her writeup on Communalisation of Rajasthan (Nov 2001, Communalism Combat):

“Nine years, in totality, of BJP rule has been used by the party leadership to successfully infiltrate echelons of the administration and the police,” Sriprakash Sharma, senior journalist and editor of Rashtradoot told Communalism Combat. “Even now, sections of the top cadre of the IAS and the IPS visit the former BJP chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and the latter publicly flaunts this as he did a few weeks ago at Diwali.”.

Looking at the feverish attempts to construct a new common sense around Mr Shekhawat, it is high time that students of Rajasthan politics go into the details of Mr Shekhawat’s 55 year old political career to let the people know how his ‘moderate’ image has facilitated the growing dominance of Hindutva fanatic elements in the Rajasthani society.

In fact one finds a lot of commonality between the images of Vajpayee and Shekhawat as opposed to Advani and Modi. While the moderate looking Vajpayee could adorn the high seats of power for his moderate image with due support from ‘secular’ sounding formations, Shekhawat also seems to be marching on the same route.

It is a different matter that when the need arose a ‘moderate’ Vajpayee had no qualms in castigating the religious minorities to suit his purpose. The world very well remembers how in its Goa meeting Vajpayee, the then prime minister of India had taunted and chided Muslims by saying “wherever they are, they live separately”, and nonchalantly asserted: “If a conspiracy had not been hatched to burn alive the innocent passengers of the Sabarmati Express [at Godhra], the subsequent tragedy in Gujarat could have been averted. But this did not happen.” He then rhetorically asked: “But who lit the fire?”

Not to be left behind, Shekhawat had declared “There will be a Gujarat-like situation in Rajasthan if the State Government did not stop its ‘appeasement of Muslims’ and ‘anti-Hindu’ policies.”

- People’s Democracy (July, 2007)

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