India Saffron Success
Narendra Modi continues his march towards the most coveted position in India amid allegations of abetting the 2002 Gujarat riots.
An Ahmedabad court has cleared Narendra Modi of all charges of abetting the Gujarat killings.
How does a country treat a person under whose rule intercommunal violence of the worst kind took place – an allegedly state-sponsored pogrom that left hundreds dead, thousands injured, many missing, women raped in the most brutal manner and children – as young as a few months old – burnt and butchered? It was the sort of violence that destroyed entire communities for life. How does a nation treat such a person whose duty it is to provide security to his people and who wielded the power to stop the carnage but he did not?
While in most countries such a person would be punished for his crime of, if nothing else, neglect of official duties, in India he was reelected to his post twice after the pogrom and now he could even become the country’s prime minister – all in a matter of 12 years.
February 2014 marks the 12th anniversary of the Gujarat pogrom. What set the wheels of violence in motion was an attack on the Sabarmati Express allegedly by a group of Muslims. Although it is hard to get an authentic account of what really happened on that fateful day, some reports suggest that a group of Hindu pilgrims travelling on the train teased Muslim vendors at the station. This infuriated the Muslims who attacked the train and, according to some accounts, set it alight.
However, various commissions established to investigate the incident have concluded in their reports that the cause of the fire was an accident. At least two independent inquiries suggested that the fire broke out due to ‘combustion stoves’. Even the railways ministry of the central government concluded that the fire was accidental. Fifty-eight people were killed in the Sabarmati Express incident.
The ultra-conservative party, Vishva Hindu Parishad ( VHP) called for a state-wide strike in Gujarat following the train incident. It was endorsed by the higher cadres of the party as well as many other Hindu nationalist parties, state officials and local newspapers. While the vernacular press openly
blamed Pakistan’s ISI, and the local Muslim community for the incident, the clarion call was perhaps given by none other than the then chief minister, Narendra Modi himself who, instead of trying to pacify the agitated masses, declared that the attack was pre-planned and conducted by ‘terrorists’ – a euphemism commonly used by politicians of both India and Pakistan for miscreants from across the border.
This endorsement led to one of the most atrocious communal riots in the history of India. The dance of death continued for days while the lawenforcement agencies conveniently looked the other way – allegedly on the orders of their chief minister. Although Modi and his party has always denied any kind of involvement in the riots, the weekly magazine Tehelka recorded, in sting operations, statements of various politicians, businessmen and police officials, narrating with sickly relish how they murdered and raped Muslims – all with the blessings of their superiors.
One only needs to look up the Naroda Patiya massacre if any more proof is required. Termed as the largest single case of mass murder during the Gujarat riots, the massacre accounted for the deaths of 97 Muslims. Naroda Patiya was located right next to the State Reserve Police quarters. In his book ‘Gujarat: The Making of A Tragedy’, Siddharth Varadarajan writes: “Apart from some individuals who allowed a few people to take shelter, the SRP did nothing to help the Muslims. When some residents ran towards the police for protection, Inspector K. K. Mysorewala of the Nroda Patiya Police Station ordered his men to fire teargas at them… those who ran towards the police for help were told to turn back or they would be shot. On the other side of the road was the mob waiting to kill them.”
What happened after that was stuff so grisly that it will shake even those who have nerves of steel. Among the 97 murdered were 36 women, 35 children and 26 men. People, including pregnant women, were hacked to death, women were massraped and then killed by burning or stabbing. Children were speared and held aloft by the hysterical mob to mark its ‘victory’. Groups of people were chased into huge pits where they were burnt alive. It is said that for the first time in India’s history, women also actively took part in the riots that lasted for 10 hours.
All this happened in Gujarat which, according to a research paper by Raheel Dhattiwalla and Michael Biggs, did not “experience extreme Hindu-Muslim violence even during partition in 1947 but now holds the dubious distinction of being the Indian state with the highest per capita rate of deaths in Hindu-Muslim communal violence.”
In the Gulberg Society massacre, around 65 people were killed. Seventy-six-year-old former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri was among those who were burnt alive as his house was set on fire. Jafri fired a couple of rounds in self-defense when a mob entered the Gulberg Society and “started stoning and burning property and people,” notes the FIR filed by Sub-inspector, K. G. Erda of the Meghani Nagar police station. Jafri had been on the phone for almost six hours, asking every important figure he knew for help. The firing was reason enough for the mob to set four houses, including that of the ex-MP, on fire.
Narendra Modi, now the strongest contender for the post of prime minister and the then chief minister of Gujarat, is on record having said that the firing by Jafri played a great role “in inciting the mob.” When asked what could have led the former MP to fire shots, Modi replied, “It was probably in his nature to do so.”
In any civilized part of the world, such a callous statement by a state chief executive, who faced accusations of sponsoring the genocide of a community, would have resulted in his sacking as a minimum punishment. But not in Gujarat where he was rewarded, literally, and has been serving as the state's chief minister ever since.
Gujarat has seen tremendous progress, especially in the industrial sector, during Modi’s 12-year rule. This is why he is supported by almost all the leading industrialists and businessmen in his quest for India’s premiership. They equate his rise to power with growth in economic activity. But, at the same time, questions are asked about the security and fate of the minorities during his rule.
Although accusations of complicity have hounded him all these years, there was a sudden increase in their intensity after he announced his decision to run for the prime minister’s slot. He has given many interviews expressing his grief over the Gujarat pogrom and has also written a blog post saying that he was ‘shaken to the core’. The biggest boost to his efforts to rebuild his image was an Ahmedabad court ruling that cleared him of all charges of abetting the Gujarat killings.
The world community is gradually accepting the prospect of Modi becoming the next prime minister of India. He assures everyone that communal riots will not happen during his rule as there has been no incident of such violence in Gujarat since 2002. But he also takes immense pride in being a ‘Hindu nationalist’. One has to wait for some time to see how the minorities will fare under a Hindu nationalist prime minister in secular India.