By Sreenivasan Jain
It’s time to look back at the abysmal handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots and its aftermath through the lens of ‘governance’
Given that Narendra Modi‘s partial coronation in Goa has raised NaMomyth-making to near embarrassing levels (extracting 15,000 Gujarati pilgrims from Uttarakhand in 48 hours, and so on), it was heartening to find that the Gujarat chief minister has at least one pragmatic fan. Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told Shekhar Gupta that he thought Modi was the man for the country’s top job, but that the Gujarat riots were “a clear-cut… administrative failure, a bad example of governance”. “How can you say,” argued the plain-spoken Parrikar, “killing of 2,000 people can be a good example of governance?” Of course, the Goa chief minister gave his Gujarat counterpart a sort of backhanded face-saver, saying “probably being new, Modi didn’t know how to take a grip on the administration”.
This matter-of-fact appraisal of 2002 may seem crashingly obvious – because it is.
But it managed to stir the pot not only because it comes from the latest member of the Modi fan club, but because his failure to contain the riots is seen almost solely through the prism of, at best, bigotry and, at worst, a cynical exercise, staged to win elections. This has allowed the Modi propaganda machine to dismiss the criticism as motivated, and somehow neatly excise the 2002 mayhem and its consequences from the narrative of Modi as a super administrator.
Isn’t it time, as that narrative peaks, to replay the abysmal handling of the riots and its aftermath through the lens of “governance” – that overused buzzword so central to the Modi mythos? For instance, the Godhra train burning took place on the morning of February 27, 2002. By afternoon, the Gujarat government was receiving multiple instances of unrest across the state – several of which mentioned the role of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Sangh Parivar affiliates in mobilising mobs.
In such an atmosphere, would any chief minister – however inexperienced – allow dead bodies of those killed in Godhra to be handed over to the VHP general secretary? Further, allow those bodies to be brought to an Ahmedabad civil hospital the next day where thousands of Sangh Parivar workers had massed? Or allow the VHP to hold its now-infamous statewide bandh?
Or, take Modi’s televised appeal for peace – a standard operating procedure of any chief minister’s riot-control handbook. The address was made on February 28 – much after the violence had spread to the major towns of Gujarat. Modi spends some time on the Godhra killings, describing them as “inhuman”, perpetrated by “fiends” (the closest translation from Gujarati), and “heinous”. He promises to “set a historic example”, because this is “a crime that can never be forgiven” and deserves the kind of response that “in future no one will ever dream of committing such a heinous act”. The horror of the Godhra attack is undeniable, but is the use of such provocative language appropriate when the state is a tinderbox waiting to explode? Especially, when the six-minute-long address contains virtually no clear-cut warning to the rioters. Instead, he chides acts of “disturbance”, “anger”, and “indiscipline” that he says is “not the solution”. He further qualifies this mild admonishment by repeatedly mentioning how he shares the “grief” and “pain of the people of Gujarat” at the Godhra killings. Not once, or twice, but five times in about as many minutes.
But, of course, much before the time the violence sputtered to a halt (a month later, towards the first week of April, not quite the “moment of madness” Modi’s supporters would like us to believe), any negative references to Modi’s role were dismissed as “secular conspiracy”. And for the decade that followed, the debate over “governance” shifted to exactly where he wanted it – to Gujarat’s economy.
Even discounting the mega-hype, few would deny that Gujarat’s already healthy economic indicators showed an improvement without any significant whiff of corruption. For this, he is justifiably praised. But his cheerleaders turned a blind eye to the mounting evidence of a deeply compromised law and order machinery. Right through those same years as India Inc gathered at vibrant Gujarat to toast his success, key riot cases were transferred out of Gujarat. The state’s criminal justice system drew severe censure from the Supreme Court. Riot cases discarded by the Gujarat police for want of evidence were restored. Only last August, a Gujarat Cabinet minister and a close Modi aide was sentenced to life for her role in the riots. Another minister-cum-aide was booked for his role in an alleged fake encounter. For the same case, and for a series of similar fake encounters, eight serving Indian Police Service officers have been jailed, perhaps the highest of any Indian state. Do Modi’s otherwise unforgiving supporters see any of this as a failure of “governance”? Of course not. But then, nor do his detractors. Perhaps both sides could use Parrikar’s comments to locate the debate over Modi’s performance in 2002 in the ballpark from where it has so far been largely absent.
Courtesy : www.business-standard.com