THERE is a saying: Der hai, par andher nahin. (It is late but never beyond the reach of justice). The wheel of fortune turns even slowly to expose Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, the state where some 4,000 Muslims were killed seven years ago. It has been an open secret that he and his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) members were involved in the pogrom, with the connivance of the state machinery, including the police.
Modi would say in defence: where was the proof? He would also tell that what happened in Gujarat was in retaliation to the burning of pilgrims in a train at Godhara, near Ahmedabad. There are too many versions to solely make the Muslims responsible.
Dust has been somewhat cleared by the Supreme Court of India that has asked the Special Investigating Team (SIT), it had appointed last year, to probe a complaint against Modi that he and his cabinet colleagues orchestrated the post-Godhara communal riots in 2002 in connivance with the police officials and senior bureaucrats. The complaint filed by advocate Sanjay Parikh on behalf of Jakia Nasim Ahesan Hussain jafri, the widow of ex-Congress MP, who was killed by a mob allegedly by Modi who was the “architect of a criminal conspiracy to subvert constitutional governance and the rule of law.”
SIT, a sort of tribunal, is presided over by a retired CBI director, R.K. Raghavan, who enjoys wide respect. His probe, it is conceded, will be fair, just and independent. The BJP is uncomfortable. The Congress is overjoyed for apparent reasons. But the people feel jubilant that the perpetrators of Gujarat may be brought to book.
The state, much less Modi, expected such a turn of events in the investigation. A human rights activist, Teesta Setelvad, who has doggedly pursued the culprits in the Gujarat killings, had submitted a petition on behalf of Mrs Jafri. The petition was filed as the First Information Reporet (FIR) with the police at Ahmedabad to contend that the killings were pre-planned and that the authorities did little to protect the victims.
The police refused to register the FIR. She went to the court which took little notice of the legal lapse. The matter came up to the Supreme Court where the lawyer appearing on behalf of the Gujarat State said that all the information, whether registered or not, could be sent to the SIT. It was part of bravado. But it has served the purpose of justice. The whole matter, including unregistered FIRs, is before the Raghavan tribunal. Modi is now in the dock. He would have to disprove his involvement before the SIT. Many skeletons are bound to come out of the cupboard. Since then many retired police officials have admitted the involvement of the government.
The immediate reaction of Modi has been that of silence. The BJP’s former foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, in a TV interview, did not react to the Supreme Court’s order on the probe, but praised Modi for his developmental work in the state. One cannot expect anything else. The party’s youthful brigade is at a loss to make comments because it has been vying with one another in its projection of Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate after L.K. Advani. They are all well read and sensible persons. But their blind faith in Modi makes one wonder whether the epitaph given to them is correct or not.
How can they or, for that matter, any sensible person think of Modi at any responsible position when there are charges of his involvement in the killing and the looting of Muslims in Gujarat? Whatever the BJP thinking, India is a pluralistic country, however wanting in many ways. The party does not appreciate the secular temperament of the people. But when the upper middle class or the corporate leaders—there was a meeting of top industrialists at Ahmedabad to back up Modi—threw to the wind the basic values of pluralism on which India’s democratic structure stands, they prefer pelf to principle. Sitting in their air-conditioned offices, they do not know how the mind of the nation ticks. Modi may be an efficient administrator but he has also the death of at least 4,000 Muslims on his head. To the unthinking corporate leaders, I can say only one thing: Forgive them Lord they do not know what they are doing.
I was the Rajya Sabha member when the Gujarat carnage took place in 2002. It was devastating news. Nobody could find any reason to explain Modi’s role. The BJP criticized him in private, but dared not say anything in public lest the party should take disciplinary action. Before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Ahmedabad for the first time after the carnage, I told him that he should have dismissed Modi straightaway. After not having done so, I said, he (Vajpayee) should take Modi to task before the public whenever he visited the refugee camps. I felt relieved when Vajpayee did so. He lost temper at many places and admonished Modi.
But the youthful brigade of the BJP which travelled with him from Ahmedabad to Goa brainwashed him so much that Vajpayee attacked Islam at the meeting he addressed. He hardly talked about the pitiable conditions in the camps he had seen or the tales of murder and rape he had heard. His entire speech was to run down Islam. It seemed that the party had taken over the Prime Minister, whatever his feelings or impressions.
Till today, the BJP has not apologised for the killings in Gujarat. The Congress Party has behaved a bit better. It has not only apologised for the killing of 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi in broad daylight in 1984, but has also denied party tickets in the Lok Sabha elections to both Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, reportedly involved in the riots which took place at that time. The party has given rehabilitation grants to the uprooted and to the victims of 1984. The Modi government has not given even a rupee to any Muslim for rehabilitation.
Whether the probe against Modi will affect polling in the current election is the question asked increasingly. There is no doubt that the Supreme Court’s order will dent the BJP’s standing. However, it is difficult to assess the loss in terms of votes. Yet the damage to the party’s image will be immense. Other political parties have gone to town to attack the party. The tragedy is that neither Modi nor the BJP is willing to make amends. They should realise that Gujarat, like the demolition of the Babri masjid, is a millstone around their neck. They have to carry it for years to come.