Friday, June 3, 2011

What to do with Narendra Modi?

What to do with Narendra Modi?
The Prime Minister commended the Gujarat chief minister’s record of giving jobs to Muslims at a crucial state election campaign. This uncalled for praise of Narendra Modi is ominous in many ways
kuldip nayar
POLITICIANS often make loaded remarks to convey what they have in mind without spelling it out explicitly. However, when a country's Prime Minister takes to such an exercise, it means he wants to say something specific but does not like to face the storm it might evoke.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has said in Kolkata that Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi had given more jobs to Muslims than the Left government in West Bengal. He may be factually correct. But does this lessen Mr Modi's crime of planning and executing the killing of Muslims in 2002? Roughly 3,000 Muslims were killed and many more thousands looted and ousted from their homes and lands.

If Mr Modi has given some jobs to Muslims, he has not in any way made amends for his diabolical scheme of ethnic cleansing. It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister should commend Mr Modi at a crucial state election campaign. In a way, he has tried to cover up the biggest mass murder after Independence.

This uncalled for praise of Mr Modi is ominous in many ways. The Supreme Court has appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reopen the cases of fake encounters and other crimes. The Gujarat government and, more so, Mr Modi is in the dock. Do the Prime Minister's remarks reflect in any way the Central government's thinking on the judgment? The verdict is yet to be delivered. Mr Modi has already started preparing the ground for criticising the judgment. 

Some 14 policemen, who are being prosecuted, have said that they had no faith in the SIT inquiry. Another disclosure has tumbled out of the state's cupboard. This time, the state's inspector-general of police Mr Sanjeev Bhatt has spilled the beans. He has said in an affidavit that Mr Modi wanted the police to let Hindus "ventilate their feelings" and "teach a lesson to Muslims." The police officer was referring to a top-level meeting on 27 February after the Godhara incident when a train compartment was set on fire in which some Hindu kar sevaks were burnt to death.

I have had no doubt about Mr Modi's involvement from day one. When I visited Ahmedabad two days after the killings and talked to men and women in refugee camps, I could reconstruct a story of a pre-meditated murder of Muslims in the entire Gujarat state and their forcible eviction from homes and hearths. It was a familiar pattern of killing and looting, with police keeping a distance.
At that time, I was a Member of Parliament and wielded some authority. The present chief secretary was the chief secretary when the killings took place. I admonished him for not taking action against the mob wielding swords and even guns. He explained to me that it was the failure of law and order machinery. Little did I know at that time that the law and order machinery was part of a pogrom that was carried out. Subsequent disclosures made it clear that the government was an active participant.

Looking back, it is apparent that India's secular polity did little even after knowing Mr Modi's culpability. Seven years ago, the Supreme Court took notice of fake encounters for the first time. It appointed SIT under its own supervision. Even though late, the entire conspiracy is being peeled off like the skin of an onion. The SIT submitted its report to the Supreme Court this week with the finding on whether Mr Modi had actually ordered police officers to take no action against rioters.

One person who could have taken action against Mr Modi was Bhartiya Janata Party's Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, during whose tenure the massacre took place. I believe that he wanted to dismiss Mr Modi. But the RSS, the BJP's mentor, and leaders like Mr LK Advani did not allow the Prime Minister to act. On his own Mr Vajpayee, did not have the political support to take on the RSS and Mr Advani at the same time.

However, lack of action does not change the fact of Mr Modi's involvement. A police officer has said that Mr Bhatt was not present at the meeting where Mr Modi had given the instructions. But Mr Bhatt's driver has told the media that he drove his boss to Mr Modi's bungalow for the meeting. Strange, the entire campaign of government is directed at denying Mr Bhatt's presence at the meeting. More important is his affidavit which leaves no doubt about Mr Modi's guilt.
All eyes are focused on the Supreme Court, although there are allegations that the SIT had been selective about admitting evidence. Mr Bhatt's affidavit was not even considered when he submitted it for the first time. Whether his fresh affidavit was taken into account before the SIT submitted its report is not known.

The question which the government of India has to answer is whether it would take any action at all. If it were a matter of moral responsibility, the chief minister should have quit long ago. Instead, Mr Modi has built a campaign to show how Gujarat has achieved 12 per cent growth rate and how his tight administration was an example for the rest of the country. In fact, top industrialists have been taken in by this propaganda when they met at Ahmedabad two years ago to declare Mr Modi as the best person to be the country's Prime Minister. These things hardly matter in the backdrop of Mr Modi had done in 2002.

Ultimately, the Centre would have to decide how to punish Mr Modi. I do not think that the Manmohan Singh government or, for that matter, the Sonia Gandhi-headed Congress has the gumption to do anything even if the Supreme Court passes strictures against Mr Modi without directly blaming the chief minister. The Prime Minister's remark at Kolkata indicates his attitude.
What the nation has to worry about is that Mr Modi has singularly distorted India's ethos of pluralism. That he has brainwashed most Gujaratis is a dangerous development. He won the state election even after “ordering” a massacre. The very ideology of secularism is endangered if Mr Modi gets away with what he did. This is the reason why the Constitution-makers had laid down that the Centre could impose President's Rule should law and order break down in a state. Political considerations came in the way of what should have been done nine years ago. The Modi government should have been dismissed. Should the Centre still be dependent on political exigencies?

It would be a tragedy if Mr Modi gets the benefit of doubt. His is a test case for the entire nation, particularly the minorities. Neither the court nor the Centre can afford to play with the basic premise of India's Constitution: democratic, secular polity.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator


Post a Comment