In­dia Saf­fron Suc­cess

Naren­dra Modi continues his march to­wards the most cov­eted po­si­tion in In­dia amid al­le­ga­tions of abet­ting the 2002 Gu­jarat ri­ots.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Jave­ria Shakil The writer is as­sis­tant edi­tor at SouthAsia. She fo­cuses on is­sues of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial in­ter­est.

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.

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