Ten years of Gujarat carnage 2002

By Asghar Ali Engineer,

It was most unfortunate day of 27th February 2002 when a compartment S6 of Sabarmati Express got or was burnt down near Godhra station in which about 59 people who were coming back from Ayodhya died. It is yet not clear what exactly happened and how these people died. Many maintain that they died of suffocation and some allege that they were burnt to death by the fire which broke out due to petrol which was thrown on the floor of the S6 compartment by the conspirators at the instance of ISI of Pakistan.

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A Supreme Court judge Mr. Justice Banerjee who was appointed by the then Railway Minister Mr. Lalu Prasad to inquire into the whole incident and he maintained that the fire broke out either because of short circuit or burst of a stow or gas cylinder which probably some karsevak was carrying. However, whole thing remains mystery till today and Sessions Court also discharged the chief conspirator Hussain Umarji as the learned Sessions Judge did not find any proof against him. However, he found 31 guilty and 63 were discharged.

[Photo Courtesy: liveindia.tv]

Less than 24 hours before this unfortunate incident Gujarat began burning and hundreds were massacred on 28th February in Ahmedabad itself. The main incidents of Gulbarg Society in which 63 people were killed and Narodapatia in which 100 persons died took place on the very first day. Riots broke out simultaneously in many cities and towns of North and Central Gujarat. However, South Gujarat remained relatively calm.

That this was not a spontaneous outburst, there seems to be strong ground. It is also alleged by quite senior police officers like R.B.Srikumar (Chief of Intelligence) and Sanjeev Bhatt who at the time was deputy of Srikumar maintain that Mr.Narendra Modi convened a meeting of senior police and other government officers on the evening of 27th February and instructed them not to interfere if the Hindus express their emotions against Muslims.

Of course this is being denied by Modi and the SIT Chief Mr. Raghavan, appointed by the Supreme Court to inquire into the complaint filed by the widow of the slain M.P. Mr. Jafari in Gulbarg Society also says there is no proof or record of any such meeting convened by the Chief Minister Modi. But, whole thing is disputed and there are claims and counter-claims and circumstantial evidence to show that such a meeting cannot be ruled out.

Whatever the case the violence went on and on and the police either kept away or actively helped the mob in killing and looting and maiming people. The violence went on for nearly three months of which it was most intense during the first week. All major incidents took place during this week. Chief Minister cannot wash his hands off in any case as he totally failed to control the situation. Even the Supreme Court was forced to observe that Nero was fiddling when Rome was burning.

And as far as evidence collected by independent agencies and People’s Tribunal which included two retired Supreme Court judges Krishna Iyer and P.B.Sawant and a retired high court judge Justice Suresh Hospet also seriously indicted Narendra Modi and his administration for what happened in Gujarat. Also, Tehelka did a sting operation in which it talked to various actors of the Gujarat violence and they boasted that Narendra Modi had assured them that nothing will happen to them and he organized their hiding in various places including Mt. Abu for six months. The whole thing was revealed by Tehelka news magazine on the eve of 2007 elections of Gujarat Assembly.

Even then BJP Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee advised Narendra Modi to remember his rajyadharma which itself is an indirect indictment of Modi’s failure to control the situation, if not his involvement. Even Raghavan of SIT who allegedly gave Narendra Modi ‘clean chit’ had to admit Modi’s acts of omission and commission which by themselves amount to serious indictment of Modi and his administration. It is no clean chit by any stretch of imagination.

Gujarat riots of 2002 are a serious blot on the secular character of India. Every riot, big or small is, that way a blot of the secular character but Gujarat particularly much more so. Nothing of the kind had happened with open state complicity before. Never any chief minister had justified such unprecedented communal violence as Narendra Modi did and called it reaction to action (i.e. Gujarat violence against Muslims was reaction to action in Godhra train burning).

Here firstly Narendra Modi assumed, without any proof whatsoever, that the S6 compartment was set to fire by Muslims of Godhra (which no responsible chief minister could do before even an iota of prima facie evidence) was available and here Mr. Modi made this claim in his public statement. Secondly the Modi Government fully backed the BJP-VHP call for bandh on 28th Feb and even permitted dead bodies of karsevaks being taken out in procession which was direct provocation to commit violence. Even a police officer, let alone a chief minister, will allow such a thing especially when situation is so critical?

[Photo Courtesy: topnews.in]

This also shows that state did not mind violence and proves state complicity. And the fact that communal violence directly helped chief minister itself is enough evidence to show he not only looked the other way when such unprecedented violence was taking place but also allegedly facilitated it. A study of pattern of voting in Gujarat of elections of 2002 also clearly showed that wherever communal violence took place on large scale BJP won with great margins (in North and Central Gujarat) and wherever violence did not take place either BJP lost or won with very narrow margin.

It clearly shows why and by whom riots were organized. Before 2002 BJP was badly losing all elections from Zilla Panchayat to Assembly by-elections and it was feared BJP would certainly loose 2002 assembly elections. It was this unprecedented carnage that enabled BJP to win elections by polarizing the Hindu votes across the castes and forgetting all the frauds and scandals which had rocked Gujarat in previous years. Mr. Patel the chief minister during whose regime all the scandals had taken place was replaced by Narendra Modi who was known for his hard Hindutva and who could use Hindutva card to make people forget those economic scandals.

Thus we see that by organizing massacre of Muslims he not only washed out BJP sins of corruption and scandals in Gujarat but also became an important Hindutva icon in India. And of course he also came to be hated by minorities and secular forces. As happens he also developed strong dictatorial tendencies and came to be feared by all including Hindutva forces. He successfully suppressed free debates on any issue in Gujarat assembly. No one dare raise voice against him. But now that he is being berated by the courts and all his sins are being exposed he is feared much less.

Lessons from Gujarat carnage of 2002

Here I would like to throw some brief light as to how Gujarat carnage of 2002 was different from other communal riots in independent India and what lessons do we learn from Gujarat? How can we prevent Gujarat-like massacre happening again? These are two important questions.

Gujarat carnage was much different from all other incidents of communal riots since Jabalpur riots. First of all what happened was not at all communal riot but an organized carnage, some calling it even genocide. It was not fight between two communities but well-organised attack by a section of majority community with full help from entire state machinery. Some cabinet ministers were even using police control room for this purpose. Never before such a thing has happened. We have instances of government authorities looking the other way but never of lending helping hand.

Not only state machinery played crucial role in aiding and abetting the rioters but also played important role in post-violence period sensing the mood of Narendra Modi. Relief was organized half-heartedly and tried to wind up within a month and when some people pointed out for continued relief as vast number of people were still not able to return to their homes and hearths, Modi said should I run baby-producing factories? He said this since few women were pregnant at the time of massacre and gave birth to babies in relief camps.

The compensation paid to the victims was extremely meager. Some people were paid as little as Rs.500/- for their house demolished or shop completely looted and those who refused to accept were threatened with arrest on fake charges. They were made to write that it is in full and final payment for damages suffered. Even such payments were not made and recently the Gujarat High Court lambasted Modi Government for non-payment of compensation to some religious places damaged during the riots.

[Photo Courtesy: theviewspaper.net]

Also more than 300 riot cases were closed saying no evidence available and it was only Supreme Court ordered them re-opened. And it was in Gujarat that certain cases like the Best Bakery case was tried outside Gujarat (in Mumbai) as judicial machinery was also communalized. Most of the prosecutors appointed by the state belonged to or were activists of, VHP. The witnesses had no protection and they refused to give evidence.

It was only in Gujarat that the Supreme Court had to appoint Special Investigation Team (SIT) to make inquiry into certain cases like Gulbarg Society case in which 63 persons including a former M.P. were killed. Never before such a thing had happened in any other riot including Mumbai riots of 1992-93.

It is a decade since 2002 genocide and yet hundreds of refugees are there in refugee camps and are unable to go back to their homes in various villages. Even today they are prevented from returning to their homes imposing stringent and humiliating conditions. In most of the riots it does not take more than few months for refugees to return. Thus the Sadbhavna mission was a great joke just to rehabilitate the image of Narendra Modi at state cost.

What lesson do we learn from Gujarat genocide of 2002? The fascist force’s in India find it easy to misuse religion for bringing fascism which BJP almost succeeded in Gujarat in bringing and referring to it as Hindutva laboratory. It is highly necessary to fight Hindutva in India through strengthening secularism and secular forces. In Gujarat though communal forces have weakened to some extent but it is yet miniscule achievement. A great deal of concerted efforts needs to be made to take on this challenge. In Gujarat even Congress is nothing more than soft Hindutva and Congress High Command is also unable to do anything.

Secularism in all BJP ruled states has been weakened as in M.P. all Hindu rituals like Surya Namaskar are being introduced in government schools. Only communal riots should not alarm us but deeper communalization of state machinery should engage our attention. A concerted educational campaign for secular awareness needs to be built up warning people of danger of Hindutva and Hindutva fascism. Our educational system needs to be thoroughly secularized. Spread of fascism in the form of communalism is far more dangerous than communal violence.