The truth and what you make of it
Some say truth alone triumphs. Or does it? What is truth, Pontius Pilate is supposed to have asked before washing his hands off Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Indeed. For instance, when a devastating earthquake hit Gujarat on January 26, 2001, Keshubhai Patel was the chief minister of Gujarat.
And Keshubhai Patel continued to be the chief minister of Gujarat until October 2001. After the earthquake, there was latent anger in Gujarat over the inefficiency in earthquake rehabilitation, as well as allegations of corruption, and the Bharatiya Janata Party replaced Patel with Narendra Modi. That is, eight months after the event. Most tears had dried by then, but some resentment simmered.
In February 2002, Modi won a by-election in Rajkot and became a member of the legislative assembly. He had been chief minister for five months. And a few days after this victory, a train pulled into Godhra station and India went through one of its darkest periods. These are facts. The truth could be anything at all. How many people died in the riots that followed the attack on the train?
You could look at the facts and you could look at the truth and you could still be confused. Was it 1,000, 2,000, more, less? You could look at the suffering and feel pain, or you could gloat that the people who were killed, the women who were raped, the children who were injured all deserved it because a man from the same religion that they followed had destroyed a temple in Gujarat over a 1,000 years ago. There is truth and there is what you make of it.
You could say that a court ruling that “there is no prosecutable evidence” against you is the same as a “clean chit”. Another court, like, say, the Supreme Court might have had this to say about the attack on the Best Bakery in Vadodara when you were chief minister: “The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be protected.”
You could say to yourself that the Supreme Court was not talking about you and your government at all if you want to, and instead, base your satisfaction upon a metropolitan magistrate saying “no prosecutable evidence”. Luckily, it’s a free country. Still. You can forget the fact that the same Supreme Court moved cases out of Gujarat to another state because it did not think a fair trial was possible in your state. Indigestible truths are often best just ignored. “No prosecutable evidence” is so much better, especially since you can make it into a euphemism like a “clean chit”.
Even better, you can convince yourself that anyone who does not agree with the truth as you see it is actually just insulting you and the state of which you are chief minister. There is nothing quite like ethnic pride for justifying ethnic cleansing or anything at all. If you do it for the good of the people — that is people who are true to you — then everything you do is justified and justifiable. And then, it’s the truth about how you grieve.
We all do it in our own way. Not all of us though use single inverted commas to describe what we feel. These are the words used: “‘grief’, ‘sadness’, ‘misery’, ‘pain’, ‘anguish’ and ‘agony’”. In some truths, single inverted commas sound insincere, especially when the words come 11 years after the event. And in a blog from a chief minister, not in an address to the people — and this is Narendra Modi, a man who prides himself on his oratory and his ability to sway people. Why does a chief minister decide to suffer in ‘solitude’ during traumatic events, rather than share these very human emotions with his people as they themselves were suffering? “Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth,” is an aphorism attributed to Marcus Aurelius. And, as confusingly, there are tears and there are the tears wept by crocodiles.On that note, Happy New Year: May what you believe appear to you as the truth.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona