By B.G. Verghese
February 27 will mark the tenth anniversary of the dreadful Gujarat riots.One needs to rewind to that date, not fast forward as the BJP has been strenuously attempting to do to crown NarendraModi as prime minister even though Advani has been patiently queuing for the job. Modi’s PR men talk of Gujarat’s “good governance”, rapid industrial growth and favourable investment climate and plead that healed wounds should not be reopened as Muslims have come to terms with 2002.This is facile and betrays a nervous and guilty mind as the net closes in on the man who presided over that genocide.
Due process has been unconscionably delayed. Victims have been hounded and jailed while the guilty walk free. Evidence has been destroyed, sometimes through fake encounters as dead men tell no tales. Attempts to frustrate or prematurely close cases have compelled the High Court and Supreme Court to intervene and order special investigations, monitoring committees and periodic progress reports. These orders are being foughtsystematically, and as honest officials and former collaborators turn approvers pressures are mounted on them.
It is in this situation that Modi has completed his so-called sadbhavana or “reconciliation” fasts in all district headquarters, flamboyant shows allegedly staged at state expense to muster political support. The fact is that Modi’s record constitutes a most flagrant defiance of Justice in keeping with his sinister warning broadcast to the people of Gujarat over Doordarshanwithin days of the holocaust.In sum, the distilled message was that those who want peace must not seek justice. (See “Rights and Wrongs: Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat”, the Editors Guild of India Fact-Finding Mission Report, May 3, 2002).
How can anybody pit Peace against Justice, least of all a chief minister bound by his oath of office to uphold the cherished values of the Constitution and human rights? What is this if not ambushing the Constitution in a fake encounter! And how can there be reconciliation without admission or establishment of the truth? Recall how the National Human Rights Commission under its then Chairman, former chief justice J.S. Verma, had furiously to battle the lies and subterfuges of the Gujarat administration against Modi’s stoic denials and his stubborn defence by the NDA Government, particularly through the Home Minister L.K. Advani whose utterances were replete with rich encomiums for the swift and firm manner in which Modi had controlled the riots. (See “Rights and Wrongs”).
There was no expression of remorse either by Modi or Advani. Indeed, the only regret from anyone associated with the NDA, BJP or SanghParivar, came from AtalBihari Vajpayee. The then prime minister expressed his pain and shock and called on Modi to observe “raj dharma”. He wished Modi to resign, but was openly overruled, sidelined and shushed into silence by his Parivar colleagues. That episode in itself told a story of defiance, unrepentance and conspiracy.
As for Modi, his grim boast was telecast over Ahmedabad’s Doordarshan station on February 28, 2002: “I want to assure the people that Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident (the Godhra train burning). The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams, thinks of committing a serious crime like this. The Gujarat Government …. shall not allow those who want to take law into their hands to destroy the peace of innocent citizens. Such culprits cannot have any place in a civilised society”. He did however call on the “innocents” to observe peace and restraint and promised that the government that would punish the culprits”. He was later to expound his “action-reaction” thesis”.
The “reaction” was inflamed by an official decision to take the bodies of those burnt to death in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra to Ahmedabad. The stops on the way attracted emotional crowds. There was a state-sponsored bandh on February 28. The verdict had been pronounced. Everybody knew who the “culprits” were and who must be taught a lesson.
Five weeks later, this writer was part of the Editors Guild Fact Finding Mission to Gujarat.He was rudely interrupted while preparing to take evidence at the Circuit Hose in Ahmedabad. A mob of Parivar supporters burst into the room shouting “Hindu haiyaMussalman”? No surprise, when Modihad himself been openly spiting venom against Muslims in general and not at proven “culprits”.
The Guild team met Modi in Gandhinagar. Present in his room at the Sachivalaya were all relevant senior civil and police officials. He was not batting alone. Yet he was virtually unable to provide a coherent answer to our questions.
Why were certain ministers and strangers present in the police control room during the riots; why were certain police officers who stood their ground and threatened to fire on rampaging mobs immediately “promoted” andtransferred; why was there no action following the daylight attack on the office of the State Wakf Board and State Minorities Commission in the Old Secretariat; why was no action was taken against Ahmedabad dailies that spread inflammatory canards; why was nothing done to save Gulberg Society despite repeated calls by EhsanJafri spread over several hours; why was no action taken following an attack on two Muslim High Court Judges; how were a large number of Muslim shrines and graves razed without any action, including the Dargah of Wali Gujarati, a prominent landmark that was demolished and overnight paved over ostensibly to permit a better flow of traffic! The indifference and evasion was astonishing.
Relief and rehabilitation was largely left to private initiative, with the State at best playing a grudging or negative role. Certain areas were barred as relief camp sites on the ground that this would provoke trouble. The rehabilitation grants sent from the Centre were not speedily utilised. Compensation was discriminatory and tardy. In many cases FIRs were not registered and a boycott of Muslim economic activity was allowed to be mounted. Earlier, Muslim shops had been systematically looted. Muslims were openly scorned for producing babies. Modi’s own provocative phrase was “Hum panch, wohpachees”.
The State Information Directorate’s press releases (See “Rights and Wrongs”) were a travesty. Modi was hailed as ChhoteSardar and Hindu traders assured of every support to ensure their continued progress. Godhra was described as “inhuman genocide” and in one press note as “a pre-planned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism” (by whom and on what evidence or finding?).On the other hand, the ensuing pogrom incidentswereinvariably labelled as “disturbances” or, occasionally, as “violent disturbances”. The subsequent transcript of phone taps and the Tehelka sting tapes of boastful confessions by prominent killers make chilling reading.
And now, as Modi finds the truth closing in on him, the BJP points to the 1984 riots, another utterly disgraceful blot on India. But two wrongs do not make a right. The Truth about Gujarat must come out and Justice must be done.