Sunday, November 25, 2012

Embers will singe

IE 31AUG2012

The Naroda Patiya verdict convicting 32 people, including former Gujarat minister and sitting BJP MLA Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal activist Babu Bajrangi, is both welcome and significant. Images from the Naroda Patiya riots — the murder of about 95 Muslims, a pregnant woman’s stomach cut open most brutally before she was set on fire — are still fresh a decade later. And so are the wounds.
Had the verdict gone the other way, it would not have been good for the nation as it could have dented the faith of minority communities in our judicial system. After all, what took place in Gujarat in 2002 has deeply affected them. The verdict has done them a world of good; it has restored the confidence of minority communities — especially Muslims, in Gujarat and elsewhere.
I was dismayed to see a Gujarat BJP spokesperson trying to defend party MLA Kodnani by saying that she was not a minister during the Naroda Patiya riot. I want to know how Kodnani — a prime accused in one of the worst cases of the Gujarat riots — was made a minister in the first place. The state government, which elevated Kodnani to minister, has a lot of explaining to do.
I believe that it is very much within the capacity of an administration to contain a riot. I remember a riot in Ranchi in 1970. I saw from close quarters how a riot could be reined in. Having learnt that a group of people was involved in fomenting anger, the administration got cracking and controlled the situation in a matter of days. If a government is firm on dealing with riots, it will surely do so rather than put the blame on the situation or on sundry extraneous factors.
One must not read too much into the timing of the verdict, with the BJP and the Congress engaged in a slugfest over the issue of corruption. It is only part of the judicial process. But the verdict will surely hurt the Gujarat government, especially as it pertains to the involvement of a former minister and Babu Bajrangi, who had bragged about his role during the riots and of the moral policing he did in Ahmedabad. The verdict leaves a serious poser for the political administration in Gujarat and the party currently in power. The conviction of a legislator in a Gujarat riot case can have political implications.
The JD(U), however, does not look at the Naroda Patiya verdict in the context of the present debate on Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi. It is not up to the party to make any political forecast from this. The JD(U) is not sure or bothered about how the Naroda Patiya verdict can affect an individual in his pan-national scheme of things or benefit rival political camps.
The verdict will also have little bearing on the JD(U)’s alliance with the BJP. Let me make it amply clear that our alliance is Bihar-specific. The party has put up a token fight against the BJP in some states, including Gujarat, in the past and may do so in the future. Our candidates recently fought against each other in Uttar Pradesh as well. We have a history of issue-based alliance with the BJP. As part of Rammanohar Lohia’s Socialist Party, we were with the Jan Sangh in the anti-Congress fight in several states in 1967. We worked together during the JP movement as well. There is no problem with our alliance right now, as the prime focus is still on building Bihar so that the state can completely shrug off the tag of Lalu Prasad’s jungle raj.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been categorical about the JD(U)’s stand on the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate — someone who has a clean and secular image. Although the JD(U) firmly holds that Nitish Kumar is prime minister material, he has made it clear that he is not in the race for the top post, and that the largest party in the alliance alone would take the call on the PM nominee for the 2014 elections.
Recently, there have been questions about the JD(U) distancing itself from the BJP and getting closer to the Congress. We have always been very critical of the UPA’s policies, both inside and outside Parliament, and hold that the UPA does not stand to gain from the possible projection of Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate. Rahul proved to be a damp squib in the recent UP elections. His leadership qualities are being overhyped by the Congress. Priyanka Gandhi too could cut no ice with the electorate in Rae Bareli and Amethi, and the party could win only two of ten assembly seats despite her sustained campaign. Those who speculate on the JD(U) maintaining an equal distance from the BJP and the Congress before going to the 2014 elections could be jumping the gun.
In the meantime, we must hail the Naroda Patiya verdict for reinstating our faith in the rule of law.
The writer is a JD(U) MP in Rajya Sabha and the party’s national spokesperson,