Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sardarpura convictions good….now find the truth about Modi

Finally there is some justice in Gujarat. 31 out of the 73 people accused in the Sardarpura murders were convicted by the District Court and given life sentences for their role in the Godhra riots; This is good…..but it would be better if the real culprits – the big daddies of politics – be brought to book. Anyone who lived in Gujarat in those days knows precisely what happened in the state then. Much of Modi’s current iconic status in Gujarat comes from his perceived actions (or inactions) against the rioters in the days following the Godhra riots.

No doubt, the riots followed an equally brutal and dastardly killing of kar sevaks by the Muslims in Godhra. The Sardarpura convictions follow the Feb 2011 one – when 31 Muslims were held guilty for the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in which some 54 kar sevaks lost their lives. 11 of these were given the death sentence and the rest, a life sentence. Both these convictions are good. Anyone who takes the law in his/her own hands should be given the exact same treatment.

Like all other major riots that have happened in the past, this one is also all about politics. The Godhra riots are another glaring example of the risks involved in mixing politics with religion, especially in a country like India which has seen many Hindu-Muslim clashes in its first forty years of independence. Given the religious grounds on which the subcontinuent was divided at the time of independence, it is not surprising that such a huge distrust still exists between the two communities. If then, any political outfit tries to build its politics on religious divisions, that must be condemned.

While Hindu-Muslim rivalry is decades (if not centuries) old, a new chapter was added when the BJP/RSS/VHP outfits and their cohorts pulled down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. In what was clearly a planned and premeditated step, lacs of kar sevaks had assembled in Ayodhya – led on by leaders of these outfits. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was carried out under the watch of a BJP state government – a government which had reassured the Center about its determination not to allow the demolition to happen. The day the masjid was broken down, it was clear that there would be a huge spiralling up of the tensions between the two communities. The Godhra train burning was a direct result of that. As proven by the trial court in Feb 2011, the Muslims planned the attack on the train, clearly as a retribution for the Babri demolition. It was a dastardly act and the fact that it was in retribution for the Babri demolition did not make it justifiable.

But the Godhra train burning and the riots that followed cannot be considered to be alike. There is a fundamental difference between the two. The train burning down was done by a bunch of wayward people without the support of any political party or governmental authority. The attacks against the Muslims however appear to have been state sponsored. The accusation made against Modi is that he intentionally looked the other way when the state burned. If this is true, then Modi has to be treated like any other goon. Modi’s role has not been ascertained yet and to hold him guilty would be unfair. But what is clear is that Modi has never done anything to inspire confidence that he intends to find the truth about the riots and have a fair trial in Gujarat. Modi’s battles with various IPS officers are well known. The Supreme Court’s distrust for the Modi administration is well known. That is why it is important that Modi’s role be investigated quickly – and the truth about his conduct be found quickly. Is Modi guilty? If he’s not, then that matter should be buried once and for all. But if he is, then he should be brought to justice quickly. Arresting ordinary culprits is one thing – but getting after the main fish is the more important thing to do.

A few months back, there were celebrations in the BJP when the Supreme Court ruled that it didn’t need to overlook the investigations of the Godhra cases any longer. The BJP tomtommed that as evidence that the SC had found nothing wrong with the state government. The ruling yesterday shows how premature the celebrations were. The trial court – working on the evidence gathered by the SC-monitored SIT has indicted a bunch of people includeing at least a couple of village sarpanchs associated with the BJP. The BJP is in the dock with this judgement – whether Modi personally is or not remains to be seen.

A Muslim intellectual once asked me this of Modi: Let’s assume Modi is not involved in the post-Godhra riots. Let’s assume that he tried his best to stop the riots. Let’s assume he behaved like a fair leader – neutral to both the communities. Then why is it that Hindus in Gujarat refer to Modi as “Hindu Hriday-samrat”??? What has Modi done to be revered as the King of the Hindus? Why not Gujarat Hriday Samarat?

No one believes that the accusations against Modi are unfounded. That’s why the US has denied him a visa. That’s why the Gujarati Hindus vote for Modi repeatedly in every state election; but don’t give his party a clean sweep in the Lok Sabha elections. That’s why Modi himself is finding it so difficult (within his party) in making the jump from the state to the center. That’s why the BJP’s own alliance partners don’t want to have anything to do with Modi. That’s also why Modi is trying so hard to distract the attention of the country to his state’s economic progress – a claim that is completely unfounded as I proved in an earlier post on 17th September: “Modi’s growth story is a sham…..”.

In the end, I would like to add here that bringing tyrants to book should not be about politics. The BJP appears to be behind the Godhra riots. Just as much as the Congress was behind the Anti-Sikh riots in 1984. Even in those riots, there were just a few convictions – and those too of ordinary people - none of the main orchestrators of those riots have yet been convicted. Both Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler remain free till date in spite of several eye-witnesses talking of their involvement. The 1984 riots is a story of bad politics practiced by the Congress and the party needs to be condemned for it. Equally so, the BJP needs to be condemned for its role in the Godhra riots.

The Congress managed to get out of its trouble with the Sikhs by sincerely apologizing to them. Even if Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler have not been arrested and put in jail, they have been denied any further role in the party. The Congress has managed to win back the trust of the Sikhs at least partly. The party managed to win the state elections in Punjab (60% population is Sikhs) in both 1992 and 2002. The Congress also made Manmohan Singh the first Sikh PM of the country. What the Congress did in 1984 was appalling and unforgivable. But it has attempted to make some amends. It’s time that the BJP also made some amends. The BJP must take it as a challenge to form its own elected government in a state with a large Muslim population (say Assam – 31% Muslims and Kerala – 25% Muslims). The BJP must attempt to install India’s first Muslim PM. It’s shocking that more than 60 years after independence, we still have not had a single Muslim PM. The BJP will claim success for having installed Dr. Kalam as the President of India, but everyone knows the real power vests in the PM, not the President. If the BJP is truly contrite, it has to show it now. Instead, what we see continuing till date is the same old politics of Hindutva….

The real truth is that the BJP’s role in the post-Godhra riots has been at least partly established by yesterday’s verdict in Sardarpura. But this is not enough. The truth about Modi must be established – if he’s not guilty, let that be proven. And if he is, then let that be proven as well. Likewise, it’s shameful that the main leaders behind the Anti-sikh riots have been let free. Cases against them must be expedited. Till the Congress does that, it cannot have any moral rights to attack the BJP on Godhra….

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