Age of anticipatory apology

Apparently, he had merely said that the BJP was requesting just one chance from the voters in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections  

Age of anticipatory apology

Had Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP, apologised to the Muslim community? Well, he had, addressing a gathering of Muslims last week, said, “…if there has been any mistake and shortcoming on our part, I assure you that we will apologise to you by bowing our heads.” So you think it refers to the 2002 mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat? Especially because Singh himself had referred to the sectarian violence – true, in a mild kind of way – and had declared, referring to Narendra Modi: “Now, the court has also given him a clean chit, what else is left against him?”

But no, contrary to popular belief, Rajnath Singh had not apologised for the Gujarat violence of 2002. He had merely said that he and his party would be ready to apologise if there had been a mistake.

Ah. Okay. Close enough. An almost apology is better than no apology, you think. After all, it is not easy to say sorry. One must appreciate the effort.

Wait. Wrong again. The BJP chief was not even close to apologising, we are told. Just as we got all excited about the possibility of reconciliation between the hardline Hindutva brigade and Indian Muslims, as we wondered whether Muslims could forgive the atrocities of 2002 and everything else, including the demolition of the Babri Masjid, just as we got ready to fit in some optimism in our cynical ‘oh the shamelessness of vote-bank politics’ attitude, there was a clarification from the BJP. There is no question of the BJP apologising to Muslims, it said. “The BJP president did not apologise,” declared party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “We want people from all sections of society to come with us. We don’t feel the need to apologise.”

So what on earth was Rajnath Singh talking about? Apparently he had merely said that the BJP was requesting just one chance from the voters in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. If the BJP failed to deliver on its promises, then they would apologise to the people. So it was not even an almost apology, it was an anticipatory apology. A bit like anticipatory bail.

But why would anyone – especially a big, strong, apparently god-fearing political party need an anticipatory apology? Well, perhaps for the same reasons that people need anticipatory bail? Perhaps because they fear that they may need it very soon? And that at that time, which was imminent, they may not be in a position to get it?

Oh dear. Now it doesn’t sound at all like a nice, conciliatory gesture from the BJP, does it? In fact, it sounds like a brazen threat. Like the attitude of those loud young men in Delhi who stride into places with sleeves rolled up over tight biceps, laughing at rules as they go unabashedly after what they want. The bold and the brash, who openly defy the laws of the land. “Baad mein sorry bol denge,” they sneer. We will say sorry later.

It is unfortunate for the BJP that it had to come out with this threat just when they were going all out to woo the Muslims and the Dalits.

It is particularly sad that the long speeches of Rajnath Singh talking touchingly of the “love” the BJP had for Muslims had to finally end in this. Poor Rajnath Singh. How he needs to change his tune ever so often.

This man, now talking so ardently of the BJP’s “love” for Muslims, was the same person who had earlier been loudly announcing the BJP’s commitment to building the Ram Mandir in place of the Babri Masjid that they had demolished. And now he seems to be proffering an anticipatory apology for any future mischief.

And the BJP has made it clear that they “don’t feel the need to apologise”. Not for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, not for the mass murders of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, not for the clear, targeted ‘othering’ of Muslims in Indian society, not for spreading hatred against the community. Not for the many violations of citizens’ rights and human decency. Not for dishonouring the Indian Constitution.

So what prompted this sudden explanation that turned an almost apology into an anticipatory apology? What was the crying need, while election seduction is going on, to turn what could be a soft, healing gesture into what could be a harsh, brash threat? Were they scared that an apology could be an admission of guilt?

Not necessarily, in today’s political logic. And if the BJP stopped attacking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for even one second, they could perhaps learn from him. Remember his moving speech in 2005, apologising for the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi? Many Congress leaders had been accused of being instrumental or otherwise complicit in the terrible murder of 4,000 and more Sikhs right after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.

And Manmohan Singh, a proud, practising Sikh and a loyal Congressman, had apologised in the Rajya Sabha during the debate on the Nanavati Commission Report on the 1984 violence.

“On behalf of our Government, on behalf of the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place,” said the PM. And went on to say: “I have no hesitation in apologising not only to the Sikh community but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood and what is enshrined in our Constitution.”

The BJP, which is certainly full of very clever people, could benefit by learning from such sensitive and smart gestures – even from one like our lame duck PM, who is almost permanently silent.

Antara Dev Sen is Editor, The Little Magazine.


   Antara Dev Sen

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