The past is never dead, wrote William Faulkner, in fact it’s not even past. The past lives on and smoulders in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. Ten years after the worst communal massacre in the 21st century India under the watchful eyes of the state, the ghosts of Gujarat are yet to be put to rest. Even if the victims of the 2002 pogrom wanted to move on, Modi has seen to it they do not. As India marks the tenth anniversary of the anti-Muslim massacre, justice still remains elusive for the families of more than 2000 victims. The wounds have turned into festering ulcers.
After a decade of endless investigations, testimonies of top cops and the supreme court interventions and above all substantial evidence, those who presided over the slaughter haven’t just managed to evade the long arm of the law, they continue in power as defiant and far from repentant as ever.
While India has had a long history of recurring communal violence, Gujarat 2002 remains unique in many ways. The obscene dance of death that went on for weeks in full media glare wasn’t spontaneous. It was carefully calibrated and executed with surgical precision with those high in power enabling, overseeing and encouraging it.
The state didn’t merely watch the madness for weeks on end; it joined in the fun with all the power and resources at its disposal. The findings of the three judicial commissions and special investigative team, not to mention numerous eyewitness accounts, including those by courageous policemen like Rahul Sharma, Sanjiv Bhatt and Sreekumar and investigations by independent media prove the collusion of the state government beyond doubt.
You had senior cabinet ministers like Maya Kodnani, in jail now, personally monitoring the ‘punishment’ meted out to Muslims on the streets of Ahmadabad. Two ministers, Ashok Bhatt and I K Jadeja, took over Ahmadabad and the state police control rooms to ensure no help reached the victims, desperately begging for it even as they were raped, hacked to death or set on fire within their homes.
Mobs armed with swords, trishuls and kerosene and acid bottles went around with voter lists in their hands, systematically identifying and eliminating Muslim families. One such mob surrounded the Gulbarg Society, a largely Muslim gated community. Ehsan Jafri, a former MP and prominent Congress politician, who lived in Gulbarg, made hundreds of desperate calls to senior officials, including to chief minister Modi, even as the mob blasted its way through his apartment block. Help of course never arrived and Jafri – along with 68 others – was hacked to pieces and burnt right before his septuagenarian wife who’s now running from pillar to post for justice.
Which isn’t surprising since the chief minister had issued clear instructions to the top police and administration officials the night before at a meeting at his residence to shut their eyes and ears and allow “Hindus to vent their anger” over the Sabarmati Express blaze, promptly blamed on Muslims without any probe or proof even as many experts discounted the possibility of a running train being torched from the outside.
But then who said this had anything to do with Godhra? It was an excuse for Modi and his party to penalise the minority community, burnishing their own credentials as the protectors of Hindus and the motherland. The love of all things Muslim is the raison d’être of the BJP-RSS-VHP combine. Gujarat 2002 was no aberration. Given an opportunity, they would do it again and again.
The question is, how long will the rest of India tolerate this worldview and treat the bloodthirsty killers with kid gloves? If the 2002 bloodbath in the land of Gandhi’s birth and failure to prevent and stop it was disgraceful, even more scandalous has been the state’s inability to bring the perpetrators to justice. Words like rule of law, fair play and human rights remain just that – mere words. Except in one case, the Sardarpura massacre where 33 people were burnt alive, there has been no conviction.
Let alone finding justice, Muslims are facing continuous witch-hunt at the hands of a vindictive state administration. Locked in their ghettos and deprived of basic amenities, they find themselves totally marginalised and ostracised – politically, economically and socially. They can’t even sell their homes and business to move to safer neighbourhoods for a fresh start, thanks to the new laws.
During a much sobering visit in 2009, one experienced, almost physically, the palpable pall of fear and gloom that has enveloped Gujarat’s Muslims since February 2002. Scores of young Muslims have been bumped off in staged police encounters. Hundreds have been languishing in prisons as ‘terrorists’ and ‘Pakistani spies.’ No wonder thousands of Muslim families have fled to neighbouring states.
What’s most disturbing is the fact that no one seems able or willing to confront Modi or the mindset that he represents. Instead of confronting him on his crimes, the increasingly shrill, TRP-driven media has been lionising the chief minister and portraying him as a market-savvy and forward-looking CEO, committed to good governance.
Indeed, whitewashing his bloody past and numerous cases pending in courts, Modi is increasingly being projected as the prime minister-in-waiting and the hope and future of the billion plus nation. The Congress-led UPA coalition too has failed to rein him in. Ever mindful of its electoral calculations and majoritarian sensibilities, the party has gone to great lengths to avoid a confrontation with the Gujarat satrap.
But is this just the problem of one party or community? The fascist worldview that is at the heart of what is going on in Gujarat, often described as the Hindutva’s lab, has emerged as a challenge to Gandhi’s India and all that it stands for – pluralism, democracy and social justice.
As CPM leader Sitaram Yechury warned this week, ten years after the pogrom, the RSS and BJP have sharpened communal polarisation all across the country, weakening the foundations of India’s secular polity. The creeping saffronisation isn’t limited to Gujarat or other BJP-ruled states. It’s a national project, with thousands of RSS schools and shakhas and saffronised textbooks driving it. With the terror attacks on the Samjhauta Express, Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid and Ajmer shrine now being traced to Hindutva groups, it seems this war for India’s soul is being waged on all fronts.
Where will all this end? I do not know but it’s not going to be pretty. And we will all pay for it. If anyone could defeat these fascist designs, it is the Hindu majority of the country which is peace-loving, reasonable and incredibly tolerant. They have demonstrated the generosity of their spirit time and again, which was seen in the tenacity with which cops like Sharma and Bhatt have confronted the chief minister at great cost to their careers. Let’s hope that spirit will prevail in the end.
The article is printed in today’s newspaper February 28, 2012