Kocheril Raman Narayanan
K.R.Narayanan, former president of India has passed away yesterday. He is the first Dalit President. He was supposed to be a Man of letters personally, a great diplomat professionally and a secularist politically, although I personally never had any regard for him owing to his style of functioning and specifically for his reaction in two incidents.
The first reference is to a clemency petition that was made by two Christian dalits who have been convicted and awarded capital punishment in a case famously known as "Chilakaluripet Bus burning case". The convicted indulged in a gruesome act of roasting 21 passengers alive who are aboard a bus that was on its way to Chilakaluripet, a small town in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.
The convicted stopped and boarded the bus (hardly couple of kilometres away from its destination ) in the wee hours and tried to rob the passengers and as a measure to threaten them sprayed petrol and lit the bus. 21 passengers were charred to death. After the henious act the culprits had no remorse, instead enjoyed movies, alcohol and wandered in agritcultural fields around the place of crime. When an award was initiated to capture the culprits, one of them appeared before the police on the pretext of supplying clues for capture of the criminals. The police doubted the man whose hands were burnt and arrested him and his accomplice only to find out that they were the perpetrators of the crime.
All courts from district level to the apex have awarded and confirmed capital punishment to the convicted and finally the clemency petition was made to the then president Shankar Dayal Sharma during the fag end of his tenure. The strong Christian lobby and its protagonist George Fernandes left no stone unturned in building support to the "great cause" of awarding clemency to the convicted. I have read news paper reports, that they even wanted to broach the topic with the then President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela who was visiting India, to have the approval of clemency petition recommended by him. Myself and my paternal uncle wrote a letter to the president Shankar Dayal Sharma asking him not to award clemency explaining the details of the case as to why they don't deserve it. We reminded him of "Nishkama Karma Yoga" as propounded in Bhagavatgeeta.
Alas! Before the file has come to the president's office, Shankar Dayal Sharma's term ended and K.R Narayanan assumed office and the first thing he did was to award clemency to these incorrigible culprits ignoring the plight and agony of the family members, relatives and friends of those 21 people who have been baked to death. A newspaper even quoted a family member saying that, if the mercy petition is approved, the common man will loose confidence in the legal system.
I was residing in Chilakaluripet when the henious incident occurred and happened to visit the place of crime. The sight of the burnt bus was disturbing. Dead bodies couldn't be identified because they got roasted and the kith and kin were given remains by literally scratching them from the body of the bus to perform the last rites. They didn't even know if the "remains" they got belonged to their family member or not.
Did the convicts deserve clemency? Why was the president so merciful towards the convicted when they weren't towards the passengers?
The second reference is to the riots in Gujarat. In the wake of Godhra incident where in 56 Hindus who were traveling in Sabarmati express were burnt alive by Muslim fundamentalists, riots have started in Gujarat. K.R.Narayanan didn't talk, condemn the incident of Godhra, nor did he mourn for the lives of those 56 Hindus, but was quick enough in condemning the riots and quicker in painting Narendra Modi black. He has even written a "strong" letter to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about the riots.
K.R.Narayanan had been selective in using his words as "man of letters" for certain sections of the society, has used all his skills as"diplomat" when atrocities have been committed by them and yet remained "secular".
None of the words in English language trouble me more than the word "secular". The reason being the meaning of this word changes with situations, community of people involved in the situation and the context. All my efforts all through my life to understand the true meaning of this word have failed. I sometimes wonder if there would be any other country in this world other than India, where the interest of the majority community is not taken into consideration for making policy decisions. Being a Hindu sometimes gives me identity crisis.