Title: Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir
Author: Teesta Setalvad
Publisher: LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2017
Pages: 221 Price: ₹295
Hatred is a powerful political tool. Its power increases in direct proportion to the symbols associated with it, especially religious or nationalistic. Many leaders in present Indian politics rose to occupy high positions wielding this weapon effectively. However, as it turned out, power was not their ultimate motive. If it were the socio-political atmosphere in the country would not have been so thoroughly vitiated.
The real motive was a “Goebbelsian desire to change the narrative” of the nation, says Teesta Setalvad in her memoir. The narrative is being altered so much that erstwhile heroes are becoming villains while people with little heroism are being elevated to heroic stature. The alteration is not confined to historical figures alone; anyone who questions the BJP and its allies runs the risk of being projected as an enemy of the nation while those who perpetrate heinous crimes in the name of certain nationalist or religious symbols enjoy heroic status.
Teesta’s political memoir narrates the story of certain transmogrifications in the national narrative with a particular focus on the Gujarat riots of 2002. The book reads like a creepy story that shakes the very foundations of our sensibility.
In the very first chapter (there are only four chapters), we are told that Narendra Modi who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat was happy to hear about the Godhra train burning incident. When he received the details from the District Collector, what Modi did first of all was to call the VHP leader Jaideep Patel, not the police or other administrators. “A senior minister in Modi’s cabinet, Suresh Mehta (who has been the chief minister of Gujarat for a year) testified to the fact that Modi, seated next to him in the Gujarat state assembly when the Godhra train burning was discussed, had a look of satisfaction on his face. ‘Now the Hindus will awake,’ was the remark made by him.” [p. 47]
Teesta says that Modi was brought into Gujarat politics just a year back because the BJP had lost a series of by-elections and Modi was expected to resuscitate the party. He ordered that the charred unidentifiable bodies of the kar sevaks be taken from Godhra to Allahabad in a motor cavalcade so that religious sentiments could be aroused far and wide. The strategy worked and the terrible riots broke out. Teesta shows with evidence that the police officers were told not to do anything so that the riots would continue for a few days. The honest police officers who resisted Modi were penalised eventually.
Teesta quotes the report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, Crime Against Humanity, vol II, “Shri Modi played an active role, along with at least three cabinet colleagues, in instructing senior police personnel and civil administrators that a ‘Hindu reaction was to be expected and this must not be curtailed or controlled.’”
The history of the Gujarat riots is closely linked with Teesta’s life since she championed the cause of justice on behalf of the victims. Her Memoir tells vividly how she was persecuted for what she did. Many charges were fabricated against her. She continued to be persecuted all the more after Modi became the Prime Minister.
The book has been published in a time when Modi has become one of the most powerful rulers in the world. His power within the country is ominous. Even the mass media is scared to report against him and his party. One must admire Teesta’s courage in publishing the Memoir at this time.
Those who are familiar with what happened during and after the 2002 riots may not find anything new in the book. Quite a lot of Indians will hate Teesta for writing the truths so openly. Very many will not even accept the truths. At least a few will admire the grit of this woman called Teesta Setalvad, great granddaughter of Chamanlal Setalvad who cross-questioned General Dyer after the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre.