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BJP succumbs to Moditva

May 02, 2009 11:12 IST
Has the Bharatiya Janata Party abandoned even the pretence of playing by the rules of the democratic game and decided that it's not bound by any considerations of minimum political decorum and that it must stoop to the lowest possible level whenever it's questioned or challenged?

Going by its reaction to the Supreme Court's order to the Special Investigation Team to inquire into the alleged role of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, his ministers and officials in instigating and abetting the terrible communal violence of 2002, that would indeed seem to be so.

The court's stipulation that the SIT must complete the investigation within three months is a sign that seven years after the violence laid 2,000 people dead, the Gujarat pogrom continues to have distressing, haunting, gnawing significance for Indian democracy, and for the public debate on the rights and wrongs of politics.

The latest order is on a par with the Supreme Court's recent directions to transfer major legal cases pertaining to the carnage out of Gujarat.

Put starkly, it is a frank expression of a lack of faith in the ability and inclination of the Gujarat administration under BJP rule to do a modicum of justice to the tens of thousands of victims of the orgy of killing, rape, arson and looting that Gujarat witnessed after the Godhra train tragedy of February 27.

However, instead of recognising its gravity, the BJP leadership has chosen to pour scorn on the Supreme Court order, maligning it as politically motivated and timed because it was pronounced three days before polling day in the general election in Gujarat. Modi has melodramatically pledged to go to jail if found guilty, but to be 'reborn to serve Gujarat.'

The BJP's Arun Jaitley has declared that 'there isn't a whisper of evidence so far' to indict Modi and that Gujarat's Slobodan Milosevic will fight off the 'secular brigade's' attack on him and 'turn it to his advantage' in the elections, where the BJP hopes to improve on its 2004 score of 14 out of 26 seats.

It's not clear whether Jaitley includes Supreme Court judges and the SIT in the 'secular brigade.' But the SIT cannot be accused of secularist zeal. Since it was set up under former Central Bureau of Investigation director R K Raghavan by the Supreme Court in 2008, the outfit has only filed one new chargesheet in the 10 cases it has investigated. That indicted Maya Kodnani and Jaydeep Patel in the Naroda Patiya case. The SIT had no choice given the irrefutable evidence of their involvement in the massacre through records of mobile phone calls.

The SIT has now been asked to investigate the complaint made by petitioner Zakia Nasim Ahsan, widow of former MP Ehsaan Jafri. This names Modi and 62 other functionaries of the Gujarat government, including 11 ministers, three sitting MLAs and 38 ranking bureaucrats and police officers. Among the latter are the then state chief secretary and director general of police.

Based on the diaries maintained by a senior police official, eyewitness accounts and detailed media reports, the petition alleges that Modi's cabinet met after the Godhra incident, and ordered top civil servants and policemen to allow 'Hindus' 'to vent their anger'. It decided to back the bandh called the next day by militant Hindutva groups.

This is in line with the findings of more than 30 independent reports compiled painstakingly by national and international citizens' initiatives, former bureaucrats, scholars, feminists, civil society organisations, and human rights groups. In essence, they show that following Modi's directives of February 27/28, Gujarat's government machinery refused to restrain armed mobs from killing Muslims, raping and sexually humiliating Muslim women, burning down their homes, destroying mosques, and pillaging property worth Rs 4,000 crore.

Two ministers (Ashok Bhatt and I K Jadeja) positioned themselves in police control rooms or police chiefs' chambers and prevented personnel from being sent to rescue people targeted by mobs, or to douse fires. Acting in collusion with the ministers, state DGP K Chakravarti and Ahmedabad Police Commissioner P C Pandey delayed imposing curfew and preventing the butchery of Muslims although they had prior intelligence on the impending attacks.

What followed was Independent India's worst-ever communal carnage conducted with State backing and sponsorship, which involved elaborate planning and preparation, and later, extensive cover-up and destruction of material evidence.

These facts are far too well-established to need more substantiation. The only way to hide and suppress them is to refuse to record them in station house diaries or First Information Reports, distort them through 'rolling FIRs', or name nobody for sinister acts of violence.

This is precisely what the Modi government did. It also systematically rigged further inquiries through the Nanavati Commission and sabotaged the CBI's investigations by destroying records, abducting reliable witnesses, and leading false evidence.

This only further compounded the original offences, themselves grave. The groundwork had already been laid by April 2002 for the charades of inquiry and prosecution that followed, in which perpetrators of heinous crimes were shielded or exculpated.

This seven-year-long process of systematic sabotage and destruction of the very possibility of justice could have been pre-empted and prevented had the central government dismissed Modi in early March 2002 and imposed President's Rule on Gujarat. That was the only right way of dealing with a clear and indisputable Constitutional breakdown.

But the BJP-led government in New Delhi wasn't going to do this. Beyond expressing tokenist concern and appealing for restraint -- as if there were two sides to blame for the violence -- it did nothing. It wouldn't have brought Gujarat under President's Rule unless it was pushed hard in an unrelenting campaign by the secular Opposition.

Gujarat's second tragedy was that the secular parties failed to mount sustained pressure on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Had all the top leaders of the non-NDA parties resorted to extraordinary actions, they could have generated irresistible pressure -- actions such as launching relay dharnas in all state capitals, and sitting on a collective fast-unto-death in Gandhinagar.

Morarji Desai had succeeded in 1974 in securing the dismissal of the Chimanbhai Patel government by going on a hunger-strike for a far lesser offence: Corruption.

Gujarat's third tragedy was that the state-level Opposition didn't even try to mobilise powerful protests. It failed by default. Modi continued to tyrannise Gujarat, making a mockery of the Constitution, gutting institution after institution, and effectively disenfranchising and politically disempowering not just Muslims, who form 12 percent of Gujarat's population, but a much larger chunk of secular non-Muslims too.

Then followed the fourth tragedy: Assembly elections, when lakhs of victims continued to live in fear in makeshift camps. By late 2002, communal polarisation had grown into near-apartheid. To conduct elections amidst such abnormal conditions is to mock democracy.

The BJP, and in particular, the man who presided over the butchery of 2002, deserves to be politically punished, even if some criminal cases against the culprits cannot be brought to completion soon. Assuming that the SIT conducts an honest job, it will still take years for the 63 people named for instigating the riots in Ahsan's petition to be brought to justice.

However, some minimal justice will be done if the public delivers a stinging rebuff to Modi and his ideology of Moditva (bloodsoaked Hindutva, coupled with a celebration of ruthlessness, machismo and pitiless disregard for the norms of democracy) by voting against the BJP and sending it packing from the political arena, thus rendering it insignificant.

By the time these lines appear, polling will have ended in Gujarat. But people in other states will still have a chance to register their disgust with the BJP's utterly divisive, exclusionist and hate-filled politics. This is not a call for vindictiveness. The Congress has at least apologised for the 1984 anti-Sikh violence and withdrawn Messrs Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar's candidature.

The BJP continues to be in denial of the Gujarat pogrom. It must be punished more severely than in 2004 because it's consciously embracing Moditva today.

A campaign was launched even before the Supreme Court order to promote Modi as the BJP's prime minister-in-waiting after L K Advani. It was initiated by two senior BJP leaders, Arun Shourie and Jaitley.

In part, this campaign is explained by the BJP's own disenchantment with Advani, whose leadership has failed to impress its members.

In part, it's meant to promote a new concept of Ubermensch (Superman)-style leadership, which delights in ruthlessness, undemocratic elitism and 'getting things done' (for the privileged, as in the case of the big subsidies given to Tata Motors), and yes, cruelty.

The BJP's caving-in to Moditva will be an even greater disgrace than its humiliation at the hustings.

Praful Bidwai