Ten Years On, Still The “Internal Outsider”
A decade later, the leading light who presided over the pogrom against a community is still the arbiter of Gujarat’s destiny, says Abdul Khaliq
Photo: Shailendra Pandey
Writing in late 2002, a well-known political commentator observed that Narendra Modi’s star which “shone illogically” for a while would soon fade away. He went on to assert that “the larger Hinduism, lost temporarily in the darkness and din of Gujarat, will have reasserted itself”. There were others like him who believed that with the cessation of violence, fear would subside and once again our multiculturalism and pluralism would come to the fore. They had faith that revulsion at the horrendous, fiendish deeds committed in Gujarat in 2002 would get transfigured into a determination never to allow such unmitigated evil to surface again. They willed themselves to hope that the forces of communalism would be obliterated in Gandhiji’s Gujarat.
It hasn’t quite panned out that way. Ten years on, the leading light who presided over the pogrom against a community is still the arbiter of Gujarat’s destiny. On the tenth anniversary of the Godhra train carnage and subsequent holocaust, Narendra Modi, belligerent as ever, lashed out at the “Gujarat bashers” who, in his warped perception, were leaving no stone unturned to disrupt the peace, communal harmony and brotherhood being witnessed in the State. Unconcerned with the truth, he berated them for “trying to poison society and inject disharmony between communities.” He rounded off his diatribe with the most blatant lie: “The State has laid a stronger foundation for unity and brotherhood that has helped it gain inherent strength to reach new heights of development and progress”.
Paradoxically, those whom Modi described as “Gujarat bashers” are actually the very people who have been working against all odds for justice for the victims, for recognising minorities as equal citizens. Their only crime is that they refuse to allow Modi and his ilk to forget the dark underbelly of unpunished crimes, of injustice, of discrimination. Modi and his loyalists are against anybody defending the human rights of a troubled, besieged community.
Apologists for the events of 2002 refer to what happened in Gujarat as a communal riot. A riot would essentially imply that members of both communities actively participated in the mayhem that followed the Godhra train burning. But what actually happened was a fascist pogrom, a genocide involving a predator and a victim. It is bone- chilling to think that lakhs of people were abettors of cold-blooded murder and destruction of property. There is now no violence but the overpowering atmosphere of distrust, of hate, of prejudice hangs like a black cloud over Gujarat.
The world has witnessed varying responses to mass murder and genocide. The Nuremberg trials (1945-49) investigated and punished crimes against the military, political and economic leadership of Nazi Germany and delivered the most severe penalties against those responsible for genocide and war. In stark contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1995-96) in South Africa was a restorative justice body that emphasised on reconciliation, and granted amnesty to many of the perpetrators of the horrors of apartheid. However, the underlying philosophy for setting up these bodies was essentially the same—to acknowledge that what happened was horrendous and that such horrors should never be repeated. In the words of Desmond Tutu, Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “We needed to look the beast in the eye, so that the past wouldn’t hold us hostage anymore.” Germany and South Africa have moved on, the dreadful period now a chapter in the history books.
Gujarat continues to live in a chamber of horrors, unable to exorcise the ghosts of 2002. This is because there has been neither retributive justice nor any form of reconciliation. Gujarat is unique in that the ruling establishment has, for the last 10 years, obstructed justice at every turn. To begin with, in hundreds of cases, the Gujarat Police, by refusing to file FIRs, prevented the cases from reaching the judiciary. Due to brazen subversion of the criminal justice system by the police and State appointed public prosecutors, the Supreme Court had to step in and order the transfer of certain cases outside the State and the reopening of more than 2000 cases. But despite the Apex Court’s noble efforts, justice continues to evade the victims of 2002. The delivery of justice has been painfully slow, with only a few convictions in the last 10 years. Most galling is the fact that the perpetrators of the most bestial and sadistic deeds remain free. The names that readily come to mind are Babu Bajrangi who claims to have split open a pregnant woman and destroyed the foetus; Dhimanth Bhatt, the Chief Auditor of MS University, Baroda; Ashok Mocha who lead a mob that set fire to the houses of 40 Muslim families in Shahpur area.
The ubiquitous TV cameras captured hundreds like them who had participated in the mayhem but they roam free, like ordinary men in the street. One is reminded of Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann’s deportment and demeanour during his trial, which she termed “the banality of evil.” Gujarat today has more than its fair share of human beings who fit this description.
Let alone the colossal failure of the justice delivery system on account of which the guilty have not been punished, there is also no attempt at reconciliation between the two communities. Prior to 2002, the discrimination and hatred towards the Muslims was covert. There was the pretence of civility, the veneer of civilised interaction. Even that’s gone and the gloves are now off. The hate and the discrimination are now in-your-face. Today, the Muslims of Gujarat are socially, politically and economically marginalised. A fascist middle class is leading the assault with their insidious, toxic right-wing thinking. Every institution of governance has been infiltrated by the adherents of the Hindu rashtra concept. Even sections of Dalits and adivasis have joined hands with their one-time oppressors in this first experiment in the laboratory of Hindu Rashtra. More than ever before, the Muslim in Gujarat is viewed as “the other.” Clarence Darrow, the humanist who fought relentlessly for the rights of blacks in America, had famously observed that no matter what laws we pass, unless people are kind and decent and human to one another, there can be no peaceful co-existence or liberty. In the ultimate analysis, “peace and freedom come from human beings rather than from laws and institutions.” Sadly, Gujarat today has little of brotherhood or the “Indian spirit”.
Marginalising the Muslim and creating a permanent rift between communities is barely disguised State policy in Gujarat. The State Government has enacted a law preventing distress sale of property in areas dominated by another community, clearly with the intention of isolating and segregating Muslims in ghettos. The State Government has refused to implement the Central scheme of scholarships for Muslims on grounds that it did not subscribe to special privileges for religious minorities. Muslims are under-represented in every sector, more disadvantaged than the Dalits. There are fewer number of mixed schools than in 2002. Juhapara, which is the largest Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad, is not provided with the civic amenities available in other colonies.
The State has refused to rebuild around 400 dargahs and mosques that were destroyed in 2002. Compensation paid to those who lost everything in that period of madness is a mere pittance. Modi knows that keeping alive his image as a Muslim baiter enhances his popularity in a deeply polarised society. The problems of Muslims have to be seen through this prism of alienation.
Gujarat today is seen as the powerhouse of economic development, a model for others to follow. The Vikas Purush is the darling of the corporate world which is ever willing to barter its soul for filthy lucre. What is little known but a strong reason for the adulation is the punitive anti-labour laws in place which sanction the hiring and firing of employees at will. It is also a fact that government land is being leased to corporates for a song. Of course, there is no denying that there is tremendous economic development so who cares that it is not equitable and inclusive.
The tweets of the CEO of Gujarat are an exercise in unabashed self-adulation. Sample this: “The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves.” He is now clearly eyeing the top post in the land, hence the change in tactics. The Sadbhawana yatras, the talk of peaceful co-existence and brotherhood are aimed at camouflaging his real persona of a ruthless, Right-wing pracharak. He knows that the policy of polarisation of communities which is so successful in Gujarat will not work on the national stage. Had the Mahatma been alive today, he might have gently reminded Modi that fraternity and brotherhood, like non-violence, “is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”
Disinformation, half-truths and double speak dominate the public space in Gujarat today. There is also black comedy on display. DG Vanzara, the police officer who is in Sabarmati jail in connection with fake encounter killings, who was the hatchet man of the powers that be and lined his pockets as recompense, has not only recently completed his PG diploma in “Value Education and Spirituality,” but has also written two books on spiritualism and humanity, which have become best sellers. In Modi’s Gujarat, you don’t have to practice what you preach!
Many have wondered whether a change in political dispensation in Gujarat will bring back tolerance, peaceful co-existence and pluralism. The sad fact is that the alternative—the Congress followers of secularism i.e. quite simply a cloak of convenience. Time and again, it has been guilty of playing footsie with “soft Hindutva.” Moreover, under UPA-II, the intelligence agencies continued to unjustly identify a community with terrorism, leading to untold harassment and illegal arrests. The Bharatiya Janata Party cannot be trusted but the Congress is no better.
Gujarat badly needs another Mahatma.
The author, a former civil servant, is Secretary General of the Lok Janshakti Party.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org