Appointing Muslim police chief won’t help Modi: Activists


Ahmedabad : Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be trying to soften his hardline Hindu image by appointing a Muslim police chief, but rights activists and victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots say it will not cut much ice during the upcoming general elections.

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“It is clear he is looking at becoming prime minister, if not in these elections then sometime later,” says Ahmedabad-based political scientist Achyut Yagnik. He pointed out that top industrialists Anil Ambani and Sunil Bharati Mittal had called Modi prime ministerial material.

“But for that he has to wash off the blot of 2002,” he says.

Yusuf Sheikh, convenor of the Antrik Visthapit Haq Rakshat Samiti, a body to protect the rights of those displaced in the riots in which over 1,000 Muslims were killed, says Modi’s appointing a Muslim police official now will not really help.

“No Muslim, be it in Gujarat or elsewhere, can forget the atrocities committed on them,” Sheikh told IANS.

“He will not succeed in getting any partners. Chandrababu Naidu (of Telugu Desam Party) has already said he is not going with the National Ddemocratic Alliance (NDA),” says Sheikh. The NDA is led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Those who go with Modi run the risk of losing, like Chandrababu suffered and lost many seats in the last general elections,” he added. The polls are expected in April-May.

Modi Saturday shifted out director general of state police (DGP), the controversial P.C. Pande, and appointed Shabbirhussain Shekhadam Khandwawala, a Muslim, in his place.

Pande was Ahmedabad police commissioner when the 2002 riots took place. Modi had promoted Pande to the top post.

The Gujarat violence broke out in the wake of a fire in a train in Godhra town that left 59 people, mostly Hindu activists, dead. There were serious allegations against the BJP government of Modi that it had a hand in the killings.

Many see Modi’s attempt to bring in a Muslim in Pande’s place now as an effort to appeal to larger sections of the public.

“To aspire for the top job, he needs acceptability not only among the present NDA partners but also potential allies,” social scientist Tridip Suhrud says.

But Sejal Dand, a rights activists working among women affected by the riots, said Modi had actually done very little for victims.

“There has been little concrete action for rehabilitation of victims. Secondly, the DGP comes from the business community of Dawoodi Bohras, with whom the majority Sunni Muslims of Gujarat don’t identify,” she says.

Yagnik says: “It is no big deal to appoint Khandwawala, who was the seniormost officer after Pande and the latter in any case was to retire after a month.”

“But the words ‘a Muslim DGP in Gujarat’ has some symbolism at the national level, whether it works or not is another matter,” he pointed out. His being from the Dawoodi Bohra denomination is only “in the fine print”.

Suhrud said Modi sees himself on the national scene after the BJP’s present prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani.

“It will be all the better for him if the NDA is unable to form the government.(BJP president) Rajnath Singh will resign owning responsibility and Advani may well hang his boots to make way for GenNext. Modi comes in here,” Suhrud says.

The chief minister for the last few years has been projecting himself as a good administrator.

He has been organising global investor summits, signing memorandums of understanding (MoUs) worth billions of dollars. His critics, however, say barely 25 percent of these MoUs have translated into actual investments.

But Modi is heard more than his critics since “he is a good brand manager and is trying to create a pan-India impact by attracting the urban Indian middle class,” says Yagnik.

Suhrud says: “His language is also different these days. He voices opinions on national issues, from the economic crises to India-Pakistan relations to terrorism.”

“He is indeed thinking national.”