Kuldip Nayar, November 13, 2007
Some serious-minded secularists feel that the sting operation showing Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's foot soldiers boasting about conducting the Gujarat pogrom with state support should not have been publicised. The point being made is that this would polarise society and help consolidate the Hindu vote in Modi's favour. I do not understand how gloating about the killing of innocent Muslims will increase Modi's votes. Assuming this is true, should the crime be suppressed? That would be like a cover-up of a murder on the ground that the perpetrator would be lionised. The issue is not whether the sting operation benefits Modi, but whether the confession of murder is something to be made public when it is reconfirmed.
It is a coincidence that the killers' admission came after Assembly elections were announced in Gujarat. Would the publicity have been justified if the killers had spoken earlier? We have seen on television screens the perpetrators of the crime describing how "execution squads were formed, composed of the dedicated cadre of Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bajrang Dal, the Kisan Sangh, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party," and how "the idea was to harm as many Muslims as possible, burn them, kill them."
The brutality of a pogrom is not lessened if it is hidden from the nation. Exposing a crime is not linked to electoral strategy, but to the value system. I believe, a person begins to die the day he sees an act of injustice being committed but keeps quiet. The Congress is not coming out openly because its approach is political. It is not sure how the Gujarati Hindus would react to it. The party would have reacted differently if it had realised that murder was murder, whatever the fallout of its exposure. As for the BJP, it is hoodwinking the people because it knows that both Modi and the party have been thoroughly exposed. The complicity of the Congress in the death of 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi does not justify the Gujarat killings. In both cases, those who committed the crime should have been punished.
Also, it is the Gujaratis who are now being tested. I do not think that the state's economic growth which is a result of their own enterprise and hard work can make them soft towards Modi's crimes which are now told in black and white. Peace cannot be built on the dead bodies of innocent people. Hitler too gave peace to Germany for 15 years. But we know at what price, we also know how the state of Germany just crumbled when the truth was known. No citizen can forget or forgive the pogrom because status quo will be disturbed. Today, Gujarat is a fractured society. It is vertically divided. This, I am sure, must be bothering the people in the state, and I have no doubt that they will assert themselves to see that the guilty are brought to book. Till today the Germans have not forgiven themselves for overlooking what Hitler did in the name of the purity of the German race. Sometime later, if not today, Gujaratis will also realise that Modi misled them by converting his communal approach into Gujarati self-respect. The people who were killed were also Gujaratis. Whenever he is accused of planning and executing all that happened in the wake of the Godhra train burning, Modi plays on Gujarati sentiment and argues that in reality it is they who are being run down. This is how he has got away with murder. Gujaratis do not deserve a chief minister who builds his reputation at their cost and polarises society to escape its wrath.
Modi even makes a mockery of Mahatma Gandhi's ideals of pluralism. Modi's style of functioning is authoritarian and parochial. So much so, that a revered state leader like Keshubhai Patel feels humiliated and is maintaining a distance from the BJP, the party he has served for decades, for it has put up Modi as the candidate for the chief minister's post once again.
Had the Nanavati-Shah Commission which was set up to ascertain the truth, submitted its report, Modi would have probably been exposed by this time. But even after five years the inquiry committee is still conducting its investigation. It seems as if the judges are extending their job after retirement. The commission is turning out to be another Liberhan Commission which was set up in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. The committee has had as many as 84 extensions, costing nearly Rs 8 crores. It has not submitted even an interim report in the last 15 years. I think the Chief Justice of India should look into the working of such inquiry committees, because the way in which some extend their tenure, brings a bad name to the judiciary. There should be a time frame and no inquiry committee should last beyond three years.
Modi's defence by the BJP spokesman does not surprise me. The party, because of L.K. Advani's increasing influence and Atal Behari Vajpayee's waning say because of ill-health, is most vociferously communal when it projects Modi. The BJP's thinking is that if it loses the Assembly election in Gujarat, it will lose in the general election. It might do so even otherwise if it continues to back Modi. True, the process of election has begun in the state and it cannot be stopped till the polls take place. But surely Modi can be hauled up for his crime. The Centre lacks that kind of courage, not because it cannot muster enough of it to take action, but because it is afraid of the BJP's hostile reaction.
To say that we all are to blame is to rationalise the crime. No doubt, the nation is not as secular as it should have been after 60 years of independence. But this is because we have not really worked for a pluralistic society. The belief that the communal bias will go away with the departure of the British who divided us to rule, has not turned out to be correct. The communalism which had taken root in the 150-year-rule of the British needed to be fought relentlessly.
It is a tragedy that the Congress which has ruled the country for the first 45 years did very little to change the parochial attitude of our society. It did not even punish those whose names were mentioned in the inquiry committees set up after riots. School and colleges were allowed to be the breeding ground for communalism. Books written were either too superficial or too sophisticated and went over children's heads. Then there was the growth of some political parties which thrived in misleading the people in the name of religion and caste. The situation is deteriorating, not improving.