From Partition to Bharat Jodo, Why Peacemakers Count

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The anthology, divided into 12 chapters by 12 different people from varied backgrounds, has touched upon the faultlines of India and addresses the bigger issue of sponsored communal violence in the country.

NEW DELHI — The anthology titled ‘The Peacemakers’ (Aleph; Rs 799), which has been edited by Ghazala Wahab, comes as a breath of fresh air for people who believe in plurality and peaceful coexistence. In atmosphere surcharged with hate, ‘The Peacemaker’ makes for an urgent read.

The anthology, divided into 12 chapters by 12 different people from varied backgrounds, has touched upon the faultlines of India and addresses the bigger issue of sponsored communal violence in the country.

What makes the book different is how people highlighted in each of the 12 stories tried to help the victims in one way or the other. Whether they succeed in helping them out or not is a topic for the other day, but at least they tried their best.

The first chapter sets the tone and tenor of the volume. The chapter has been written by the noted scholar and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi. He explains how Gandhi attempted to douse the communal fires at the time of Partition by reaching out to the minority Muslim community often at the risk of his own life.

Rajmohan Gandhi notes that the Mahatma tried his best to reach out to M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS ideologue, by confronting him about riots in Delhi. But the forces of communalism only stopped after killing the messenger of peace — Mahatma Gandhi.

The anthology has a detailed chapter on the Naga crisis and how the state let it slip out of its hands without properly handling the situation.

‘The Peacemakers’ editor Ghazala Wahab shares an interesting anecdote, referring to the incumbent National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, about how the state is actually allowing the situation to slip out of hand.

She writes that in the autumn of 2005, when Doval was a few months into his retirement as Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), she met him for an informal chat on the state of India’s internal health.

She writes that through his career, Doval was known for his ears to the ground approach, which gave him exceptional insights into various separatist movements in India’s border states.

According to Doval, there was a tendency at the lowest levels of the bureaucracy to deny the existence of the problem and continue to overlook it as it was possible to do so.

Once it is no longer possible to deny the problem, the lowest level of the administration usually unleashes unimaginable brutality to quieten it. This second response inadvertently worsens the problem, further alienating the people.

At this stage, the administration, unable to keep the issue under wraps, usually tries to buy silence either by pumping in money in the name of development or by cultivating local leaders to keep the flock in check.

Unfortunately, even as money repeatedly fails to buy peace, it creates vested interests over a period of time. They benefit for as long as the problem remains on the boil. The problem, as a result, lingers, sapping away resources, both manpower and money, which otherwise could be used elsewhere for growth.

The chapters on the two events that rocked India — the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 and the killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 — have been dealt in detail in the anthology.

The chapter on the anti-Sikh riots has been written by senior journalist Rahul Bedi; the one on Gujarat is by Teesta Setalvad, the well-known civil rights campaigner. In both the massacres, there’s a common thread — pre-planned killings of people belonging to a particular community as an act of political retribution. The rule book in both the stories is also the same — the complicity of the state machinery, especially the police.

Talking of fault lines, no editor, author or journalist can leave Kashmir aside. The chapter on Kashmir has been written by Ghazala Wahab. It’s titled ‘Jammu and Kashmir, 2004-19: No Peace without Justice’.

It talks in detail about the euphoria caused by the relatively ‘peaceful’ period from 2004 to 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani governments engaged themselves in back-channel talks which had given hope to the Kashmiris that a just and peaceful solution was around the corner.

It also talks about the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019 and how Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded. Wahab writes that when a peace process is ongoing, it is easy for all to ride the peacemaking bandwagon, because what seems imminent is easier to embrace.

When the future becomes an obstacle course lined with concertina wires, according to Wahab, it inspires people to not give up and keep the faith.

She writes that it is the resurgence of this faith and courage that keeps unnerving those who are seeking to rewrite the narrative of Kashmir by imposing a blanket of silence over the people.

The icing on the cake in the anthology is its last chapter titled ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra, 2022-23: Return of Hope’. The chapter talks about people who still believe in the ‘Idea of India’, in its pluralism.

The chapter, written by a medical practitioner, Ramani Atkuri, gives hope to the people who believe all is lost to the forces of communalism and to the people who have started to believe that all is lost.

It talks in great detail about how successful the Bharat Jodo Yatra was and how it has transformed the secular narrative of the country. The anthology concludes on this note of hope, highlighting Rahul Gandhi’s message to India: “Nafrat ki bazaar mein kholo mohabbat ki dukaan (Open shops of peace in the marketplace of hate).” — IANS

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