The motormouth indiscretions of rent-a-quote politicians have a nasty habit of coming back to bite them. And showing up their 'sagely' pronouncements as the cynical mechanics of politics where anything goes.
Which is why the Congress party's topmost troll, Digvijaya Singh, is today performing linguistic contortions to deflect criticism of the failure of the party's government in Assam to restore order for days after the riots broke out. Some 44 people have so far been killed, and nearly 2 lakh people have been drive out of their homes are in refugee shelters, and the riots have spread to more parts of Assam.
Asked why the Tarun Gogoi government had failed to put down the riots for days, Digvijaya Singh, in an interview to CNN-IBN, trotted out many alibis. Assam, he said, was "not an easy state to govern." Its complex demographics, and the multiplicity of ethnic identities, rendered it volatile, which had manifested itself in many incidents of ethnic conflict over the years, he said.
"I think you can't really... judge the performance of the Chief Minister or the Assam government (based) on one incident (of riots)," he added.
Asked how his defence of the Assam government today squared with his criticism - over the years - of the role of the BJP government in Gujarat for its failure to put down the riots of 2002, Digvijaya Singh reiterated the same old charges that, a decade later, have yet to be proven in a court of law.
What happened in Gujarat in 2002, he said, "was a state-sponsored... pogrom; the communal violence was state-sponsored. Here (in Assam) it is certainly not state-sponsored. The state government is trying its utmost to bring peace to the area and you just can't compare Gujarat with Assam."
Digvijaya Singh's comments are worth dissecting, for they show up the inconsistencies in his own stand in the matter of governmental responsibility for riots that happen under their watch, and of the cynical politics that underlies these shifts in stand.
This is the same Digvijaya Singh who had earlier taken the high moral ground to claim that the mere fact that Gujarat riots had not been put down immediately pointed to state complicity in the riots. If a Chief Minister, with all the powers of the State government under his command, could not quell a riot situation in 24 hours, he ought not to stay in power, he had suggested.
Yet, it appears that when it comes to his own party government's failure, in Assam, Digvijaya Singh's golden rule of governance in riot situations goes for a toss.
Similarly, many of the same alibis that Digvijaya Singh invokes in defence of the Gogoi government apply with greater merit to the Gujarat government in the context of the 2002 riots. Just as Assam has had a record of ethnic tension over the decades, Gujarat too has witnessed communal riots over the decades; in fact, under successive Congress governments in the State, there were many more instances of communal tensions and riots.
But, more significantly, in the decade gone by since 2002, Gujarat has not witnessed even one single instance of communal riots. If, in Digvijaya Singh's reckoning, the Gogoi government deserves a break because "you can't really... judge the performance of the Chief Minister or the... government (based) on one incident (of riots)," the Gujarat riots of 2002 too ought to be seen as a tragic aberration - and not be milked for political gain in the way that the Congress has done.
There can never be any "justification" for violence, of course, but the riots of 2002 were an extreme response to the provocation of the Godhra train massacre. And unlike in the case of Assam, where the tension was building up for days without the government even waking up to it, in Gujarat the time-lapse between the Godhra provocation and the riots was very brief, which effectively flat-footed the administration.
There is one other aspect of the Assam situation that renders it worse than the Gujarat parallel. For all the ethnic complexities in Assam that Digvijaya Singh cites (and which are true up to a point), the latest riots are only the most dramatic manifestation of the tension triggered by illegal immigration from Bangladesh that the Congress government in the State refuses to acknowledge to this day.
Even the Congress' coalition partner in Assam, Hagrama Mohilary, noted earlier this week that illegal immigrants (from Bangladesh) were involved in the riots, but on Thursday Gogoi dismissed these charges as untrue. "The violence was orchestrated by our own people, and not by Bangladesh nationals," he said.
What is far harder to dismiss is the Congress' contribution to the build-up of tension over the years through its cynical exploitation of minority politics, which manifests itself in its refusal to acknowledge that illegal immigration is a problem. As Assam's Sentinel newspaper noted in an editorial, the Congress has over the years been responsible for "changing the demographic profile of the state and making the minorities a majority community... (because of unabated influx of Bangladeshis with geometric population growth) in several districts."
And that cynical project, of actively feeding off minority politics, continues to this day.
In that sense, Digvijaya Singh is right. Assam is no Gujarat, but not for the reasons that he's cited. Assam is far worse than Gujarat: perhaps not in terms of the cynical arithmetic of the death toll from one episode of riots, but in the manner in which the Congress has milked 'minority politics' in Assam for years and years and deliberately downplayed the security risks from the unchecked illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
There's a far greater risk that it will be Assam, not Gujarat, that will see many more communal riots and ethnic tensions because of this blatant minority politicking. On that count, at least, Assam is far worse than Gujarat.