Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Gujarat: 'Since there is no evidence that Modi himself engineered it, he is not guilty'

There is a view that the post-Godhra carnage, in which over 2000 Muslims were killed by frenzied Hindu mobs, was a pre-meditated conspiracy to use the Godhra train incident as an opportunity to cleanse Gujarat of its Muslim population. Gujarat's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, is believed to be a part of this conspiracy. However, let us assume that he is acquitted of the charge of a pre-meditated agenda of ethnic-cleansing. Does that mean he is not culpable?


To answer this question, one must examine, a) the Chief Minister’s actions during the pogrom, and b) after it. 

As for Modi’s actions during the post-Godhra carnage, the affidavit of Modi’s own chief of police, DGP R.B. Sreekumar, states that Modi had prevented him from taking necessary action to prevent further escalation of violence against Muslims. According to Sreekumar, Modi “asked me to concentrate on Muslim militants... [He] instructed that I should not concentrate on the Sangh Parivar [the Hindu Right], as they are not doing anything illegal”. Further, two affidavits and a petition filed in the Supreme Court by Sanjeev Bhatt state that Modi had asked officials to let Hindus ‘vent their anger’ at the Muslims.

But let us assume that Shreekumar and Bhatt are unreliable, and that no such instructions were given by Modi. Does this let Modi off the hook? As the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi failed in his primary responsibility i.e. to preserve law and order in his state. When it collapsed, he failed to restore it. The violence continued for 182 days. Modi failed his responsibility to utilise the state machinery under his command to protect the fundamental right to life of more than 2000 Gujaratis. Hereby, Modi has achieved something historic: as CM, he has presided over violence on an unprecedented scale since Partition. The Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court, has reported that the Modi government delayed imposing curfew in Muslim areas, which would have reduced the killings (Hindustan Times, 27.02.2012). In his failure to protect hundreds of Gujarati women - who were raped, maimed and sexually tortured -Modi became the Chief Minister under whom the scale and extent of atrocities upon innocent women far exceeds any reported sexual crime during any previous riots in the country since partition. ­Due to his inability to prevent the carnage, 523 places of worship - 205 mosques, 298 dargahs, 17 temples, and 3 churches – were desecrated. 

But let us forget this and, instead, assume that Modi was helpless: he had tried his best to curb the riots but to no avail. Assuming that nothing could have been done during the initial riots to prevent their further escalation, let us examine Modi’s actions after the riots. Before this, we must ask what should be done after  mass violence. First, the state machinery should be utilised to identify and try the perpetrators, and punish them according to the law. Two, along with delivering justice, the victims must be shown sympathy and compassion. There must be an acknowledgement of their loss and hurt, an apology for it, concomitant with an attempt towards their rehabilitation and integration. In the 10 years since the pogrom, there should have been an active attempt to reconcile the Hindu and Muslim communities in Gujarat. If this has been achieved, Narendra Modi is worthy of exoneration. 

But Modi has not punished the policemen who let the massacres take place. On the contrary they have  been promoted. Further, he has not identified or punished those in his government (assuming that this was not done on his orders) who destroyed crucial police wireless communication records during the pogrom. Second, the SIT has confirmed allegations that the Modi government had appointed pro-BJP/RSS* advocates as public prosecutors in riot cases. It also states that police officers who took a neutral stand were transferred to insignificant postings (HT, 27.02.2012). Apart from Sreekumar and Bhatt, Rahul Sharma, a superintendent, has been charge-sheeted for giving details of the role of Sangh Parivar (the family of Hindu nationalist organisations) to the SIT without seeking permission of the state authorities. Vivek Srivastav and Himanshu Bhatt are two police officers who were transferred for trying to apprehend rioters (the former for arresting a Bajrang Dal leader and a VHP worker who were trying to foment trouble). 

In the immediate aftermath, when the atmosphere was still volatile, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Organisation) spoke of the Gujarat pogrom with pride, as ‘having shown the way’. Its general secretary Praveen Togadia spoke of Gujarat as an ‘experiment’. He said, “we will make a laboratory of the whole country. This is our promise and our resolve. If madrasas, the jihadi laboratory, are allowed to educate to kill non-Muslims, why can’t we have our own laboratory?... Gujarat has become the graveyard of secular ideology”. Let us, for a moment, even forget the links between BJP and the VHP – the militant Hindu nationalist organisation that facilitated the BJP's rise as a national-level party. What, then, was stopping Modi from banning the VHP for its incendiary remarks and its rabble-rousing? 

In a compassionate human being who was trying his best to stop a massacre, one would expect to find feelings of remorse, helplessness, and desperation. Portraying the people of Godhra as having ‘criminal tendencies’, Modi said that “... now they have done a terrible crime for which a reaction is going on”. Thus, instead of viewing the pogrom as morally reprehensible, he calmly portrayed it as a ‘natural’ reaction. If Modi is not guilty of engineering the massacres, he remains guilty of unabashedly condoning grotesque murder, rape and torture. As L.K Advani – then, the union Home Minister - admitted very openly, “... riots are a sad issue... [but].. the question of an apology does not arise”. In these ten years, Modi has not visited the victims’ homes, and has not apologised to the Muslim citizens of his state. Empathy and compassion seem to be singularly lacking in Gujarat’s strong leader.

Muslim victims have not been given the compensation they were entitled to. In many cases, the victims had neither home nor jobs to return to. Modi’s government has been very efficient in building roads, temples and Hindu business establishments over the ruins of Muslim homes. Muslim businesses in many areas have been taken over by Hindus. Even 10 years later, four families that survived the massacre at Ode - a municipality in the Anand district of Gujarat, where 47 Hindus, all Patels, killed 23 Muslims – say they feel safe only in the fields outside Kanbhaipura village. Fear and mistrust is still pervasive among the victims of Gujarat (Indian Express. 28.2.12). 

Many others still live in “transit” relief camps which have become ghetto colonies – evidence of permanent displacement. One such colony is “Citizen Nagar” - near Ahmedabad’s garbage dump at Pirana – where 183 riot-affected families have been re-located. Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat live separately and unequally. Last year, a senior academic from IIT Kanpur was forced to drop his plan of moving to the new IIT at Gandhinagar as he, being a Muslim, was unable to get a house on rent in the predominantly Hindu area where the IIT is located. A top official at IIT Gandhinagar told the Hindustan Times, “we even proposed to some societies that IIT will take the flat on rent but they bluntly said no Muslim family will be allowed to live in the flat”. 

Clearly, even if Modi himself did not have a ‘grand design’ to allow the massacre of Gujarati Muslims, he is culpable on several accounts. As the Chief Minister, he stands guilty in failing his primary responsibility to restore law and order and put an end to the violence – the riots continued for over six weeks. Moreover, Modi deserves strong censure for not condemning murder, arson, rape and torture during the pogrom. It is the very least one expects from a head of state. As the chief minister of Gujarat, he failed to show urgency in identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, and has been unable to provide a sense of security to the victims of the 2002 violence, who continue to live in fear. Nor has he made any serious attempt to rehabilitate or compensate them. Narendra Modi stands guilty in his utter inability to show even an iota of sympathy and compassion.

Just as one can assume that the pogrom was beyond the Chief Minister’s control, one can talk of Modi’s inactions in terms of an ‘inability’ or him having ‘failed’. However, if one assumes that Modi is the shrewd, astute political leader he is made out to be – the one responsible for turning Gujarat into ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ with a GDP of 11%, one will find it extremely difficult to deny the role of choice and agency in Modi's actions and inactions related to the 2002 pogrom.

*RSS = Association of National Volunteers.


Updated information

Naroda Patiya Verdict, Aug 2012 -

Naroda Patiya survivors and witnesses  face threats -

Amicus Curae says proceed against Modi -

The cast of characters changes from one SIT version to another. And so do the stories they have to tell - (May 12, 2012)


Pamela Philipose said...

Thank you for sending me this and yes, the emerging generation needs
to be informed and reminded...the eternal battle of memory against forgetting.

Ayan Sharma said...

very true...he is legally exonerated ..but deserves the bloody gallows....his acquittal is a mockery of justice or anything even remotely resembling it....