No matter how much Gujarat progresses, 2002 will continue to haunt Modi
When you spill innocent blood, sometimes the stains don’t wash off the hands. Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi may be feeling like Lady Macbeth now. Despite frequently being hailed by the Indian Inc. as the best chief minister, every once in a while the ghosts of those killed in the February-March fortnight of 2002, rise to cast a bloody shadow on the gleaming turrets of development that Modi has supposedly built in Gujarat.
The latest to raise a wagging finger at Modi is IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt who was the deputy commissioner of police, Intelligence in 2002. In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, Bhatt has claimed that in the absence of his boss, the ADGP Intelligence, he was asked to attend the crucial meeting called by the chief minister on 27 February, 2002 to assess the fall-out of the burning of Sabarmati Express in Godhra earlier in the day in which 59 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya died. In the meeting, Bhatt told the Supreme Court, Modi sought to fan the agitation of the Hindus against the Muslims who were suspected to have set the train on fire deliberately. To further inflame the already roused passions, Modi insisted that the bodies of the people killed in the Sabarmati Express fire be brought to Ahmedabad despite the advice given to him by the police that doing so would create law and order problems.
But that was Modi’s intention. Bhatt’s affidavit says: ‘…He (Modi) further impressed upon the gathering that for too long the Gujarat Police had been following the principle of balancing the actions against Hindus and Muslims while dealing with the communal riots in Gujarat. This time the situation warranted that the Muslims be taught a lesson to ensure that such incidents do not recur ever again.
The Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi expressed the view that the emotions were running very high amongst the Hindus and it was imperative that they be allowed to vent out their anger…’ Since this affidavit, the security cover provided to Bhatt has been withdrawn by the Gujarat police.
Interestingly, within a few hours of the burning of Sabarmati Express even before an enquiry was ordered into the incident, Modi had concluded that Muslims of Godhra had set the train on fire; not only that, he also concluded that this deliberate act of terror was the result of a well-planned conspiracy. Hence, instead of behaving like a chief minister, representative of all people of the state, irrespective of their religious persuasions, he decided to act like a brigand who must avenge the supposed wrongs committed against his community.
He sought revenge by two means: One, by labelling Godhra an act of terror, he brought the case under the draconian POTA (Promulgation of Terrorist Act), which meant that the police could arrest and detain anyone it wanted without filing a report or a charge sheet. Earlier, this year a fast-track court accepted the conspiracy theory and held 31 people guilty, even though the two supposed masterminds were acquitted as the police could not find evidence against them. Strangely enough, the enquiry ordered by the Indian Railways had found no evidence conspiracy or terror attack in Godhra.
In the second act of revenge, Modi instructed the state police to hold back its hands when dealing with the rampaging mobs. Two days later, when the state was convulsing under uncontrolled violence, in a television interview Modi told a journalist that the killings were a reaction to the action at Godhra. “If there was no action, there would have been a reaction,” he said.
Even though communal violence is not new to India, and everyone understands that the minority communities (not Muslims alone, but Sikhs and Christians will also testify to this) always bear the maximum brunt of such violence because of a degree of official complicity, the 2002 Gujarat violence shook the nation because of its brazenness. So much so, that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (who belongs to the same party as Modi) considered firing Modi. Subsequently, he allowed his party members to prevail upon him, but he is on record regretting not having removed Modi from the office then. Clearly, he and the BJP knew that Modi was conducting a grotesque experiment in Gujarat, which, if successful, could be repeated elsewhere.
The experiment did not succeed. Despite repeated laurels from the Indian industry for setting Gujarat on the path of economic development, Modi has not been able to live down the pogrom of 2002. Fortunately, there are more people in India who believe that economic growth is not the only measure of determining the development of a society. Unless a society is built on the principals of justice, religious fair-play and equal opportunities for all, its foundations will remain shaky and your weakest members will hold you back. Unless, of course, you get rid of the weakest among you, as Modi tried to do in 2002.
In any case, what is the surprise if Gujarat is doing well? Of all the people in India, Gujaratis and Marwaris are considered the most enterprising; they flourish wherever they go. They have flourished even in the non-entrepreneurial states like West Bengal.