Special to Times of Oman
I did not know Mukul Sinha well. I had met him only once at his quiet home in Ahmedabad suburbs in the summer of 2009 when I had visited Gujarat.
My editor then, who had been sick and tired of my preoccupation with Gujarat and Narendra Modi, had wanted me to break out of my arm-chair reverie and visit the state to check out the "ground realities" for myself. "Ground realities in Gujarat have dramatically changed since 2002. It is not what it used to be anymore. People have moved on; this is why Modi continues to get re-elected. Go get a real feel of the story," he advised me.
So there I was chatting with Mukul Sinha, an IIT alumnus with a PhD in physics who had taken to law to take up the causes that were closer to his heart. The activist lawyer had topped the list of the contacts that my good friend and senior colleague Mahesh Trivedi felt I mustn't miss if I wanted to know and understand Modi's Gujarat.
Mukul Sinha spoke in soft, undertones like an Ivy League professor which he would have perhaps become if he hadn't chosen a different path — to serve and be with the people he loved — the voiceless and wretched of the earth. He spoke with great conviction as he discussed his long battle for justice for the victims of 2002 riots.
He had an air of quiet sincerity and honesty about him that liked a blessed spirit touched and transformed everything and everyone around him. But even as he talked of the many hurdles placed in the path to justice by the administration and targeting of everyone who chose to confront the crimes against humanity, there was never a hint of bitterness or frustration in his voice.
Indeed, there was hope and optimism — about finding justice some day and a better tomorrow ahead.
As the leader of the Jan Sangharsh Manch, a civil rights movement that he had founded to fight for
Gujarat workers' rights, he had been in the forefront of the struggle for justice for the 2002 Gujarat carnage.
Mukul had waged a tenacious battle against cancer over the past one year. Few knew about the monster he was quietly and valiantly battling in his personal life. He passed away this week with great dignity and with a smile on his lips.
Gujarat's true hero couldn't have perhaps chosen a more perfect time to go. Reports of his death arrived as beaming television anchors and delirious pollsters celebrated a massive victory for the BJP, marking a watershed in the nation's history.
As many of us have feared all along, 2014 has indeed turned out to be the year of change — a change for the worse and perhaps the beginning of our end. India will never be the same again.
The nation that inspired hope, euphoria and idealism around the world winning it lifelong admirers such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat now raises anxiety and even fear.
The world finds it hard to believe that the Mahatma's followers may have chosen to go with those who brought him down.
It is perhaps just as well that Mukul isn't around to see this day. But did he fail? Did all those who have been battling alongside him all these years for justice, for the dignity and humane, libertarian spirit of this amazing country fail? I wouldn't think so.
That Mukul continued to battle till his last breath and never gave up hope is a testament to the nobility of his mission and justness of his cause.
Above all, it is a tribute to the combative spirit of the silent majority of this nation. It's people like Mukul — and their humanity — who make this nation great. And Mukul's mission will live on as long as a semblance of reason and humanity is left in this country.
Testing times are ahead and not just for the country's religious minorities and disadvantaged communities. Given Modi's stellar record in Gujarat, the Parivar's long simmering agenda and the BJP's unprecedented numbers, it promises to be anything but a smooth ride.
We will soon be living in interesting times, as the Chinese would put it.
But we cannot abandon hope. For when hope is lost, all is lost. This is truly a battle for India's soul and we just cannot afford to lose it.
This is all we have got. And this is still a country worth fighting for. So what if the night is dark and demons are closing in on us. This is no time to hide or fall back. As Faiz would advise: Kat'te Bhi Chalo, Badhte Bhi Chalo, Bazu Bhi Bahot Hain, Sar Bhi Bahot, Chalte Bhi Chalo Ke Ab Dere, Manzil Hi Pe Daale Jaayeinge.
March ahead, even with limbs severed: arms are many, heads many more,
Press on, move forward; we would stop only at point of destination.
The author is a Gulf based award winning journalist. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.