Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, has become object of derision for assorted Left leaning activists even before the embers of the Sabarmati Express had gone cold. It was not unexpected. The Left’s virulent campaign against Modi was meant to satiate the collective conscience of Nehruvian apologists who had felt slighted at being kicked out of power in New Delhi. For the first time, a BJP-led NDA had ousted the Congress.
The Gujarat riots were the perfect alibi to conclusively establish the ‘communal’ credentials of the BJP, that had until now been only in the realm of the Congress party’s imagination. The 2002 riots were called the worst in independent India, in which thousands of Muslims were killed and no justice was possible as long as the cases remained in Gujarat.
Truth has strange ways of emerging when you try to suppress it. None of the above assertions by well-meaning activists, who were coincidentally close to Congress, are true. Let us evaluate each of these assertions in detail. The following paragraphs will state well-established facts about 2002. However, facts in isolation convey little and they must be contextualised with data from similar environments. To this end, we will also look at some of the devastating riots India saw prior to Gujarat 2002, under the ‘secular’ Congress.
Counting the dead is painful but truth must be told.
Riots, under any regime and irrespective of the extent of death and destruction they cause, are a national shame. No civilized society can have place for such violent disagreements. Nevertheless, violence – and riots – are as old as ‘civilised society.’ The only thing we can do in understanding them and mitigating their impact is to study them impartially and not be selective in our condemnation.
Assertion 1: Gujarat riots were worst in Independent India.
Facts: 1969 – Gujarat: Total dead 660 of which 430 were Muslims; 1983 – Nellie, Assam: All 2,191 dead were Muslims; 1989 – Bhagalpur: Of the 1,070 who died, 876 were Muslims; 1992 – Mumbai: 575 of those dead out of 900 were Muslims. Obviously, no one can forget the ghastly pogrom of 1984 (this distinction is important). 4,000+ Sikhs were butchered in cold blood by marauding Congress thugs.
Compare this to the Godhra riots of 2002, wherein of the 1,169 killed, 781 were Muslims and the rest Hindus. Police action led to killing of Hindus too, unlike in the riots listed above which saw no police intervention. Far worse, Indira Gandhi justified Nellie (see para 8) and Rajiv Gandhi’s now infamous “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” comment is the most heinous comment to justify killing of innocents.
Any literate person can see that neither was the Gujarat riot the first in independent India nor was it the worst. It is important to note that no one orchestrated it, neither has anyone justified it.
Assertion 2: Thousands of Muslims were killed
Facts: Thousands? Total number of deaths in Gujarat riots was 1,169 of which Muslims killed were 781 and not thousands as those who have little regard for facts would like us to believe. Yet it is important not to look at just numbers but also to understand the effort the state government of Gujarat made in those crucial hours after the riots broke out.
Modi had been Chief Minister for less than six months and had been elected to the Assembly less than a fortnight before the riots broke out. In this short period, he was rated highly, particularly by the minorities. In the given situation, the CM did the best he could. Lets go through some of the reports in media during that period.
I quote Sheela Bhatt who wrote for Rediff on the morning of 28th February, 2002.
A state home ministry official speaking to rediff.com said that the situation in Ahmedabad and Baroda is tense, but under control.
He said, “There are reports of angry people gathering in the streets of Baroda and Ahmedabad. But we have enough policemen deployed to prevent any untoward incident.”
He said that fears of a communal clash between the Hindus and Muslims have forced the administration to impose curfew in seven areas of Baroda.
Two cases of stabbing were reported in Baroda and Ahmedabad on Wednesday night, the official added.
At 6pm IST on 28th February, 2002, the Army was on stand-by and I quote from the Indian Express
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Thursday called a meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security, which decided that Army will stand by in the disturbed areas of Gujarat.
Earlier in the evening, addressing a crowded press conference, Chief Minister Narendra Modi put the death count at 20, said curfew was imposed on 26 areas and over 700 were arrested in the state, including 80 in Godhra, the place of Sabarmati Express carnage. The Army has been asked to stand by, and the Rapid Action Force and Central Industrial Security Force have also been deployed in sensitive areas, he added. “If possible, the Army may be air-lifted from the border,” Modi added.
Following large-scale arson in Ahmedabad, indefinite curfew was clamped in Kalupur, Dariapur, Rakhial, Karanj, Bapunagar, Naroda, Vatwa and Sherkotda areas.
A Rediff story confirmed dispatch of 1,000 paramilitary personnel to Gujarat on Thursday, 28th February, 2002.
On 1st March, 2002, The Hindu reported
AHMEDABAD, MARCH 1. The Army began flag marches in the worst-affected areas of Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot and Godhra cities and the `shoot at sight’ order was extended to all 34 curfew-bound cities and towns in Gujarat as the orgy of violence in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage continued unabated for the second day today.
But unlike Thursday when one community was entirely at the receiving end, the minority backlash caused further worsening of the situation.
Just so that we don’t lose track of dates – On 27th February, 2002, the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express carrying karsevaks was set on fire. 58 people were burnt alive and 43 injured. Riots broke out on 28th February, 2002. A massive paramilitary force was deployed on the same day and the Army began flag marches on 1st March, 2002 – all this in a matter of 48 hours! For those who can’t read the Gregorian calendar properly, it would help to note that Feb in 2002 had only 28 days.
One must admit that all sources cited so far have appeared in publications that are no friends of Modi. Therefore, one can satisfactorily conclude that these are genuine and clearly show that Modi’s administration did all it could to ensure that the violence was contained at the earliest.
If only it were so simple! It is not easy to please the anti-Modi cottage industry, not because they do not see the facts but because they do not want to. To drive home the point, however, let us compare how other elected governments reacted when riots broke out under their administration.
1969 Gujarat: The Reddy Commission concludes that despite available manpower, sufficient force was not used by the Police in the initial stages [24.41]. Discussing a particular incident it observes how the minority community had to fend for itself with not a single instance of police firing or arrest [13.8]
Curfew imposed on 2nd day in walled area only – extended to entire commissionerate on 3rd day. Reddy Commission concludes there was a delay in imposition of curfew [22.101] and this delay had no justification [11.26]. It adds the curfew was not respected as the Police was not taking strict action [11.31]
The Army deployed only on the 3rd day of the riots. The Reddy Commission concludes that deployment was delayed, also that the government should not have depended only on the IGP’s advice of not calling the army earlier [p. 189]
1984 anti-Sikh pogrom: The Nanavati Commission concludes that there was a colossal failure of maintenance of law & order, and holds the head of the police force responsible [p. 178]. It adds that if the police had been prompt and effective, it is very likely that the loss of life and property would have been lesser [p. 182].
The Mishra Commission also found that the police was either indifferent or negligent, and at times also connived and participated in them [p. 2]. Mittal Report indicted 72 police officials recommending departmental action. The Jain Aggarwal Committee indicted 90 officials. [Nanavati: p. 6-7]
The Nanavati Commission observed that despite curfew being imposed, mobs indulging in violence were moving freely and committing acts of looting and killing [p. 178]
Though 5,000 army men were available on the very day the riots began, the Army was deployed only on the 3rd day, and only on the 4th day did it become effective in some areas. The Mishra Commission concludes there was a delay in calling Army [p. 183], and blames it on the Delhi Administration [p. 2]
1989 Bhagalpur: The Sinha-Hasan Commission categorically concludes that the then SP, Bhagalpur (Dwivedi) was wholly responsible for the riots . It also observed that other officers belonging to the police and civil administration, barring a few, not only failed to prevent violent incidents, but in places even facilitated in and joined them  – listing out specific names of the directly responsible [597-598]. The Commission ends by recommending to the Government to take drastic steps against those indicated by it .
The Sinha-Hasan Commission observed that the police force aligned itself with a group of people in violation of the curfew – which was not something that can be justified or lightly ignored . It also observed that if the Army had been deployed on the 2nd day of rioting matters could have been immediately brought under control .
1992 Bombay: The Srikrishna Commission reported that the police mishandled the situation, and with their aggressive posture, actually turned the initial peaceful protests into violent demonstrations [Ch.2, 1.3. A. ii.]. It further noted that there was evidence of police bias against Muslims – with police personnel found even actively participating in riots, communal incidents or incidents of looting, arson, and so on. The Commission thus strongly recommended that the government take strict action against the 31 accused it identified [Chpt 5, 1.30]
Curfew had been imposed on paper on the 2nd & 3rd days respectively of the 1st & 2nd phases of rioting. The Srikrishna Commission found that enforcement, however, was not taken seriously, turning the curfew into a farce [Ch.4, 1.3] – it thus did not deter mobs [Ch.2, 1.3. B. v.]
On the 2nd & 3rd days respectively of the 1st & 2nd phases of rioting, the Army was used for flag march only. The Army was deployed for operational duties for the 1st time only on the 5th day of the 2nd phase of rioting. The Srikrishna Commission observed that the army could have been given operational role to swiftly & decisively put an end to the violence [Ch.4, 1.9]. There instead was confusion & the civil administration was unable to use the army effectively [Ch.5, 1.26. i], with the CM himself taking 4 days to issue it with operational duties [Ch.2, 1.28]
1983 Nellie, Assam: The Congress state government set up only an administrative and NOT judicial inquiry to probe the riots; the report has not been made public till date.
In contrast, the Gujarat Government took proactive steps to control the riots. The police fired as many as 10,500 rounds, and 15,000 tear gas shells were used; 207 Hindus and 215 Muslims were injured in police firing along with 522 police officers. Not just that, the police made preventive arrests of 17,947 Hindus and 3,616 Muslims. 9,954 Hindus and 4,035 Muslims were also taken into substantive custody.
It is obvious from the notes of various commissions on the riots that the Gujarat Government under Modi left no stone unturned to contain the riots. In fact, the administration, against all odds, did their best to protect the minority community from the rioters.
Assertion 3: No justice is possible as long as the cases remain in Gujarat.
Facts: Again, this is not true. In November 2003, the Ghodasar case had 15 convictions and on 11th December, 2005 in Anjanwa case, 11 life terms were handed. Similarly in 2007, the Godhra court convicted 11. Who says there is no hope for justice in Gujarat for the 2002 riot affected? Only those who claim to be fighting for justice for them!
In a revealing column India Today columnist Uday Mahurkar writes:
In March 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) appointed the Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation Director R.K. Raghavan, to reinvestigate nine major cases in the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Significantly, in March 2003, the SC had stalled the trial of nine Gujarat riot cases, thanks to the relentless campaign by the human rights activists seeking justice for the Muslim victims. The riot victims said they won’t get justice as long as the Gujarat Government had a role in the police probe and the subsequent trial. The SIT is reinvestigating the cases under the virtual supervision of the apex court, with even the judges and public prosecutors being selected under the SC’s monitoring.
Interestingly, he notes:
As the SIT goes about its task, more and more evidence is surfacing that the human rights lobby had, in many cases, spun macabre stories of rape and brutal killings by tutoring witnesses before the SC. In the process, it might have played a significant role in misleading the SC to suit its political objectives against Modi and his government.
It is no secret who these human rights activists and do gooders are (more can be known about them here 1, 2, 3). They have now become a permanent fixture in the political firmament of the ruling coalition in Delhi. They have been rewarded with important assignments and made to sit at the high table. That no one has seen a conflict of interest in the hobnobbing of these activists with the party in power is in itself interesting. It also makes one wonder about their non-partisanship and concern for the riots victims!
To turn attention to the speed of the delivery of justice in Gujarat and put them in context: the first convictions in the 1993 Mumbai blasts came after nearly 14 years; the first convictions in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom came a full 13 years later. The Bhagalpur riots which saw about 1070 deaths in 1989, mostly Muslim, had the first convictions only in 2007, after a full 18 years. No such luck for the victims in Nellie yet.
This should be a resounding response to those who doubted the quality and speed of justice in Gujarat. Those who delayed justice to riot victims by asking the Supreme Court to intervene and monitor the investigations must now gracefully accept the SIT’s clean chit to Modi.
It is perhaps for the first time in India that a democratically elected Chief Minister has upheld the law of the land, cooperating with law enforcement by deposing before every commission and inquiry. Modi’s deposition is in the public domain for everyone to see. He did not use unfair means or use media to exert any sort of pressure or influence. This is markedly different from the Congress leaders deposing before various commissions and inquires related to 1984 pogrom. Others, like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi deemed it unnecessary that the law of the land apply to them.
There is a concerted attempt by a group of Congress-sponsored activists, media and NGOs to discredit the SIT but lets not forget that Raghavan is no friend of Modi either. His investigative efforts have led to the arrest of a woman minister in the Gujarat state government. After a thorough and professional investigation lasting about two years, the SIT found no evidence to support Zakia Jaffri’s complaint of a conspiracy to organize riots. Many amicus curiae briefs have agreed with the SIT.
Conflating justice for victims with establishing Modi’s culpability by any means is unlikely to yield any dividends. His critics and political opponents must understand that.
It is unfortunate that Mr Modi has been singularly marked out for disproportionate condemnation and vilification. Of course, riots are unfortunate but if one loses objectivity and pursues an individual in the name of justice instead of seeking accountability from the system, one are unlikely to achieve either.
No one, including Modi, denies that burning of the karsevaks in the Sabarmati Express and the unfortunate riots that followed were regretful but to singularly target the chief minister for political ends is simply untenable in a democracy like ours. People in India assess political leaders for what they are and the kind of engagement and accountability they bring to the political process.
By relentlessly targeting Modi, the Left-leaning human rights activists have only sought to widen the existing religious fault lines in society in the hope that it will benefit their political benefactors. The signs, however, are quite to the contrary. The courts have acquitted – well almost – Modi; the people of Gujarat have opined in his favour; and soon, the people of India may too.
It is time to tell these scavengers that enough is enough. Let truth prevail.