Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Can one who for eight years systematically and unscrupulously blocked justice in Gujarat at every turn now say that he is meekly unswervingly obedient to the law?

Blood On Their Hands

Called by a Tribunal at long last, the vehemence of Narendra Modi’s protestations appears proportionate to his own sense of guilt over the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

By B G Verghese

Narendra Modi protests too much. The vehemence of his protestations appears proportionate to his own sense of guilt over the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Compelled to appear before the Special Investigation Tribunal appointed by the Supreme Court, he had to attend the summons and answered 68 questions to set the legal process in motion. The plaint was by Zakia Jafri, widow of the MP who with 68 others was brutally murdered by Parivar zealots in their Gulberg home in Ahmedabad.

Modi and his spokespersons have hailed his SIT appearance as a triumph of constitutionalism and statesmanship and a huge snub to detractors who said that the man was running away from justice. They have spoken of dark conspiracies to defame Gujarat despite Modi’s glorious exoneration by the people who have twice returned him to office after 2002. And the clinching argument: why are the guilty of 1984 roaming free? Let us dissect this nonsense.

Can one who for eight years systematically and unscrupulously blocked justice in Gujarat at every turn now say that he is meekly unswervingly obedient to the law? Does Modi recall his broadcasts over Prasar Bharati stating that he would teach the Sabarmati Express arsonists – whom he identified with an entire community – such a lesson that they would not rise for a whole generation. And further, that those who sought peace should not ask for justice. These brazen assertions are on record: culpable, criminal hate speech from the supposed guardian of law and order and Gujarati pride.

About being re-elected, yes, Gujarat’s development record has been enviable. But does that mean that if a man does good work or is elected to any assembly, he gains immunity from charges of murder and genocide and has licence to kill? Hitler and Mussolini too did many “good works” and trains ran on time. And if Modi and his family were to be slaughtered in the barbaric manner in which Ehsan Jafri and countless others were done to death, can this be condoned because some other bestial criminals have not been brought to justice? These are pleadings of sick minds. No less is the absurdity of Congress spokespersons who small-mindedly objected to Amitabh Bachchan’s having been invited (by whom?) to inaugurate the second four-lane deck of the Bandra-Worli sea link in Mumbai. Why? Because Bachchan is Gujarat’s brand ambassador for Gujarat tourism. How petty can one be?

BJP spokespersons have flayed the media attention given to Modi’s SIT appearance as a gross case of “trial by the press”. Is that so? There have been disgraceful episodes of trial by the media but this is not one of them. In this case, Modi ruthlessly and recklessly obstructed justice for years. And now when the artful dodger is finally arraigned, it does make news. Modi is not Gujarat and Gujarat’s pride will only be restored when justice is done. Meanwhile, we must await the unfolding of the SIT investigation and Justice Nanavati’s report which, hopefully, will not be quite the dud Liberhan’s mighty labours proved to be.

Liberhan may be forgotten, but not L.K.Advani, one of Modi’s principal patrons and protectors through 2002 as Union Home Minister. His “saddest day” is finally being publicly remembered in another landmark judicial proceeding by an upright police officer, Anju Gupta, his personal security officer on the day he watched the Babri Masjid being demolished in the face of the most solemn assurances given to the Supreme Court, Union Government and the country by the Parivar. Over television, the BJP spokesman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, tried to belittle Anju Gupta by insisting on calling her Mrs Rizvi, as though to suggest that marriage a Muslim necessarily undermined her credibility, at least in this case. Here is Parivar communalism speaking loud and clear. Modi too had tried to dismiss the then Chief Election Commissioner by repeatedly addressing him as James Michael Lyngdoh, to emphasise his Christian affiliation.

Those who swear by Hindutva use faith divisively. This was manifest at the Ayodhya hearing before the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Rae Bareli. Anju Gupta testified that the UP DGP, S.C. Dixit, who was on the VIP dais watching the “kar sewa”, later told the security personnel on duty that “their names will be written in gold in the pages of history” for their “cooperation” and masterly inactivity when the Babri Masjid was being pulled down.

She confirmed what appeared graphically on television 18 years ago, that Advani and other Parivar leaders watched the unfolding scene from the Ramkatha Kunj Manch with mounting enthusiasm and did nothing to stop the destruction of the mosque while Sadhvi Rithambara kept chanting “ek aur dhakka do”. A jubilant Uma Bharati and the Sadhvi hugged Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and S.C. Dixit as the last dome fell and distributed sweets. Anju Gupta says Advani asked her to call the district magistrate and SSP to meet him on the dais, which they did, and also connect him by phone to the CM, to whom also he spoke.

Advani had set the stage for the event two years earlier when he undertook his Rath Yatra. The hate speech he then unleashed across the country incited a backlash of communal violence and bloodshed in its wake. There was never an iota of regret in 1990 or 19992, nor again in 2002, when Advani saved Modi’s neck when Vajpayee as prime minister wanted to remove him as chief minister for failing in his “Raj Dharma”. And thus the sad Advani has continued sadly into the sunset, only to be vividly remembered at a most untimely moment.

Meanwhile, a khap (caste/gotra) panchayat has finally been hauled up by a Haryana court for hounding a couple who married out of caste. This sort of social terrorism has been going on unchecked for years. So it is good that the High Court has ruled that khap panchayats are not above the law. Yet it is difficult to understand why the media or civil society has not asked why such a ruling was not handed down earlier and such kangaroo courts long put out of business for blatant acts of violence, discrimination, defiance of law and medieval barbarity. Despite the Prevention of Atrocities Act, dalits, like women, are so often subject to the most terrible and degrading persecution with no consequences visited on the perpetrators.

The idea that social reform is a slow and tortuous process that must take its time and that law enforcement must follow social education and enlightenment will simply not wash. This is a lazy and dishonest explanation. Strong legal action will hasten social reform. Fear of a political backlash or law and order reactions encourages license to wrongdoing with impunity and honest officials are afraid to act lest they be penalized for upholding the Constitution. Ambedkar warned the country to beware of the contradiction between political democracy and social democracy (Fraternity). That wisdom has long been forgotten, especially by self-aggrandising politicians like Mayawati.

There is blood on our hands too.

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