The real villains of Gujarat 2002

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The real villains of Gujarat 2002

Sunday, 30 March 2014 | Rajesh Singh

Congress leader Beni Prasad Verma does not want any harm to come to Narendra Modi. He recently said, “When you get innocent people killed, then there will obviously be a threat to your life. But, don't worry; we would not let him die.” There is also apparently a threat to the lives of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, which is why they have been given the highest levels of security. How many innocent people have these two got killedIJ

But not every leader in the Congress wants Modi to live. The party's lok Sabha candidate from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, is one among them. Addressing a gathering, Imran Masood said, “Uttar Pradesh is not Gujarat. There is only four per cent Muslim population in Gujarat, but in Uttar Pradesh there are 22 per cent Muslims. We will cut him to pieces.”

Unaware that his hate-mongering was being recorded, Masood first said the video clip may have been of earlier days (as if that justifies the blood lust), and later apologised. But the issue has extracted a price. Rahul Gandhi had to condemn the remark as Congress spokespersons desperately tried to deflect attention from Masood’s shocker.

The root cause of such burning hatred is the communal violence that had rocked Gujarat in 2002, a little over four months after Modi took over as Chief Minister for the first time. From Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi down to the ordinary Congress worker on the street, everybody in the party has been harping on Modi's supposed complicity in the violence that left hundreds of Muslims (and Hindus) dead. Ever since Modi became the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, the slander campaign has picked momentum. But while these leaders spew venom at Modi all over the country, they refrain from raking up the issue directly in Gujarat itself.

There is a reason. The people of Gujarat know that Congress leaders were among the perpetrators of the crime, and they had mixed freely with the marauding, fanatic mobs. The Congress would be exposed among the people who know better. So, its leaders find it safer to shoot from the safe confines of television studios in Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

When Rahul Gandhi was asked by a television anchor whether Congress leaders had been involved in the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, he said, “Some Congressmen were probably involved”. Will he admit the same if he were to face a similar question about Gujarat 2002IJ

The fact of Congress leaders' complicity in the violence is direct and certainly more credible than the accusations the party has been levelling against Modi. Yet, there is a complete absence of public discourse on the issue. It suits the secular politicians to keep the focus on Modi, and it suits the secular media not to dilute a long-standing debating point by dragging in inconvenient truths.

In his recently released book, Narendra Modi: A Political Biography, British author Andy Marino deals at length with the horrific first few days when the violence broke out, and with the greatly debated episode of senior Congress leader Ehsan Jafri who was killed by a mob in Gulbarg Society. He says, “What is certain is that Ehsan Jafri made numerous calls pleading with his colleagues in the local Congress party to come to his aid. They did not help him because... plenty of them — such as local Congressman Mehrsinh Chaudhry — were among the very mob attacking his house.”

It is not just the direct involvement of Congress leaders in the 2002 violence which exposes the party and its hysterical outbursts against Modi. Marino writes (and so did Madhu Purnima Kishwar in her book, Modi, Muslims and Media: Voices from Narendra Modi's Gujarat) that three Congress-ruled States had turned down Modi's request for help to contain the violence. But we do not discuss anything about this shocking and almost criminal act of denial of help from a party which has been crucifying the Gujarat Chief Minister. It never comes up in debates in television studios and in the print media.

Marino writes, “Modi appealed to the Chief Ministers of Gujarat's three neighbouring States — Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, the late Vilasrao Deshmukh in Maharashtra and Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh — to send aid in the form of law enforcement and paramilitary personnel. He made the modest request of 10 companies of armed police from each State.” The letters of request were sent to the three Congress Chief Ministers on March 1, barely a day after after the violence broke out. What was the responseIJ Marino notes, “Maharashtra eventually sent a very limited number of personnel to help, but the others flatly refused.” In fact, there was not even a reply from Digvijaya Singh to the SOS for nearly two weeks, and when it came it was to rebuff the request on the pretext that the personnel could not be spared “due to heavy commitments of Madhya Pradesh Special Armed Force within the State”.

Marino has rightly observed that “Digvijay Singh's indifference during the riots materially contributed to Gujarat's suffering and Muslim deaths.” This is the same Digvijaya Singh who remains among the most vociferous and venomous critics of Modi. Is it not time at least now for the media to question the likes of such leaders every time they repeat their diatribe against the BJP's prime ministerial candidateIJ

But much of the media, then as it is now, was content to play up sensational stuff — so what if it was based on unsupportable material — and play down parts of the news that did not fit in with their mindset. The media, barring exceptions, continues to promote its prejudices. Marino offers the example of how the media reported the burning to death of nearly 60 passengers, including kar sevaks, in the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra station on February 27. One English paper, he points out, wrote of a mob “reportedly belonging to a minority community”; another national daily refused to identify the religious composition of the murderous group; yet another paper with leftist leaning  said the attackers were “a group of people”; a leading television news channel called them “unidentified persons”. Not many had bothered to report that these mobs had been led by certain prominent local Congress leaders.

Marino sarcastically comments that while no reporter had a problem with accurately identifying the victims, the “attackers were a mystery”. That the killers belonged to the Muslim community, had become almost an embarrassment to the media, but the journalists were thrilled to report that the assailants in the aftermath of the train-burning incident comprised members and supporters of the Bajrang Dal and other fringe Hindu outfits.

Modi-baiters have branded authors like Madhu Kishwar, and now MJ Akbar, as ‘turncoats” and “Modi sycophants”, but what do they have to say about Andy MarinoIJ Perhaps the British writer is on Modi's payroll!

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