Monday, December 3, 2012

Reflections A bloody stink in Gandhi's Gujarat

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

I have heard not a single word of apology or regret for the debasement of human beings that 2002 Godhra riots epitomized

Were any of those In dian-Am ericans who celebrated Chalo Gujarat 2012 last Sunday with Narendra Modi conscious of the depth to which their state has sunk? Are they aware that two wrongs don't make a right?
That childhood adage comes back when I contemplate not the Ahmedabad special court's belated verdict but the grim original crime for which the former minister, Maya Kodnani, the boastfully bloodthirsty Babulal Bajrangi of the Bajrang Dal (surely there's a connection between the two names?) and 30 others have been convicted. I speak of two wrongs because several friends -and they are by no means saffron-tinted -have raised the question of the Godhra carnage.
It isn't easy to forget the grisly inferno or those blackened railway carriages in a siding near Godhra station.
Nor can we forget the pogrom that followed, with that haunting photograph of a man pleading for his life in the Best Bakery butchery. I think of Godhra because many years ago Piloo Mody successfully contested a Lok Sabha election from there, and I went to visit him and his American wife. I found Godhra strung with glittering stars and assumed in some surprise they represented Piloo's Swatantra Party symbol. But no, it was getting on for Easter, and adivasi Christians had put up the Star of Bethlehem.
That was in another age when Gujarat hadn't quite forgotten it was the home of Mahatma Gandhi. Religious tolerance was taken for granted. Gujarat hadn't yet become the charnel house to which it was later reduced.
Refused an American visa, Mr Modi had to be content addressing Chalo Gujarat 2012 by live video conferencing.
But even he must have been struck by the incongruity of the conference theme: “A World Platform to Unite the Community!“ Unite which community?
Relatives of those 59 men, women and children returning from their mission in Ayodhya who were brutally burnt to death in locked railway carriages? Relatives of the 2,000 victims of the massacres that were perpetrated in (so we are told) spontaneous revenge?
The policemen and politicians, guardians of public life in any civilised dispensation, clearly looked the other way while blood was shed.
The Muslim League's Direct Action Day in Calcutta, August 16, 1946, is the only comparison that comes to mind unless one delves into European history for the St. Bartholomew's Eve massacre of Protestants in 16th-century France.
Irrespective of who cast the first stone, I have heard not a single word of apology or regret for the debasement of human beings that 2002 epitomised.
Instead, my email box is flooded with messages extolling the chief minister's economic management, his spectacular success with China and of business tycoons singing his praise. That is precisely why the latest verdict fills me with foreboding. Far from convincing people that the hands of some Gujarati leaders are dripping in blood, it may confirm their conviction that the “pseudo-secularists“ (that word so beloved of the saffron elite) who govern this country and control the judiciary are out to malign their Hindustan ka sher.
The grieving Modi made a moving speech after Godhra: His sophisticated and diligent campaign managers have ensured that the video is there on the Net for all to see and hear. I know of no comparable performance by him or any other BJP politician in Gujarat referring to the pogrom in which many more people perished. Is he then chief minister only of Gujarat's Hindus? And will that be his national mandate if he succeeds in his ambition to take over the BJP and become the party's first Prime Minister since the benign Atal Behari Vajpayee?
As I said earlier, the response of many to the Ahmedabad verdict is: why haven't the Godhra arsonists been punished? Others say more daringly that the butchery of Sikhs, premeditated in cold blood in their view, after Indira Gandhi's assassination remains virtually unpunished. Some of my friends blamed Rajiv Gandhi for his remark about the earth shaking when a big tree falls.
Rajiv, alas, paid a cruel price for his sins, such as they were. But I fear for the long-term effect because there is undeniably some substance in the complaint that justice must be seen to be equal to be accepted without demur.
I am not talking now of morality, absolute values or principled politics. Those are unattainable ideals in the India that is Bharat we live in.
I am not talking either of the commendation the judiciary deserves for having demonstrated that its mills might grind slowly but they grind exceeding small. I am talking pragmatically of the reaction of those aboard the BJP bandwagon who think Mr Modi deserves the Nobel peace prize because Gujarat has been spared another holocaust these last 10 years. Those warped minds will seize on the Ahmedabad verdict as a great injustice and as another instance of Congress machinations to slander the only chief minister in the country who can deliver.
Sadly, everything is cynically reduced to party polarisation in the context of the 2014 general election. It's all reduced to UPA vs NDA.
In a macabre parody of Nazi Germany's defence that trains ran on time, it's rammed down our throats that there are no strikes or power cuts in Gujarat, and that, denied a home in shortsighted West Bengal, the Nano is triumphantly bouncing off the production line at Sanand in Gujarat.
It may all be true. But just as two wrongs don't make a right, economic success doesn't justify human failure. The recent verdict might be counter-productive but it will also have served a purpose if it reminds people that in an essential and even constitutional sense, Gandhi's homeland, booming though it might be, can be termed a failed state.
The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author