Gujarat 2002: The Tragedy of Amnesia

Emotions obscure facts, cloud judgement, breed prejudice …. The Tragedy of Amnesia
Tehelka: In other words, the way [you] have killed will go down in history.

Bajrangi: Arrey hamari FIR me likha gaya hai… ek woh pregnant thi, usko to humne chir diya thha b*******d sala… Unko dikhaya ki kya hota hai… ki hum log ko tumne maara to hum tumko kya pratikaar de sakte hain… hum khichdi kadhi wale nahin hai [It has been written in my FIR… there was this pregnant woman, I slit her open, sisterf****r… Showed them what’s what… what kind of revenge we can take if our people are killed… I am no feeble rice-eater]… didn’t spare anyone… they shouldn’t even be allowed to breed… I say that even today… Whoever they are, women, children, whoever… Nothing to be done with them but cut them down. Thrash them, slash them, burn the bastards… Hindus can be bad… Hindus can be bad, and I’m saying that because, as I see it, Hindus are as wicked as those people are… Many of them wasted time looting… Arrey, [the idea is] don’t keep them alive at all, after that everything is ours…(From Tehelka’s article- After Killing Them, I Felt Like Maharana Pratap )

 The above revelation, made by Babu Bajrangi, a member of the hindu nationalist organisation, the ‘Bajrang Dal’ to a reporter of the weekly ‘Tehelka’, during a sting operation, shows the depths to which human beings can fall when seized by bigotry and hatred. Bigotry and hatred, these are emotions that Narendra Damodardas Modi personifies.

The Special investigation team mandated by the supreme court to investigate ten riot cases in Gujarat recently claimed before a court in Gujarat that there was no prosecutable evidence which could hold Modi responsible for the ghastly massacre at Gulbarg society, where among many others an ex congress MP(member of parliament) Ehsan Jafri was brutally murdered. Based on the same report filed by the SIT, amicus curae Raju Ramachandran recommended prosecuting Modi under Sections 153A, 153B, 166 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code. SIT‘s conclusion was hardly surprising to those following the case as though headed by an ex CBI(Central Bureau of Investigation), the arms and legs of the team were made up of officials from Gujarat police. Admittedly, SIT‘s stand has made Modi’s indictment very difficult, but till the courts pass their judgement, to say that Modi has been legally exonerated would be wrong.

Unfortunately, the nature of the events makes it very difficult to pin Modi down legally. What can the courts do when every aspect of the state’s machinery whose duty is to protect people and apprehend criminals is subverted? Those in the know have long talked of the infamous meeting on 27 February 2002 at Modi’s residence where he allegedly asked his administration to look the other way and let the ‘hindus’ have their revenge. Two important witnesses, Haren Pandya(a minister during the riots) and Sanjiv Bhatt(the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence, State Intelligence bureau during the riots) have corroborated this fact before an independent citizen’s tribunal and the SIT. While Haren Pandya was murdered under mysterious circumstances (rather fortunately for Modi), Sanjiv Bhatt‘s testimony was rejected by the SIT and in a brazen, vengeful attempt to discredit him, he was put behind bars under clearly false charges. The presence in the police control rooms during the riots of two ministers from Modi’s cabinet also raises eyebrows.

Emotions obscure facts, cloud judgement, breed prejudice …. The Tragedy of Amnesia

Outside the courts Modi has fought a fierce battle of public perception. Immediately after the Godhra massacre, the Gujarat government tried to make up a false narrative which claimed that the incident was a result of a conspiracy by Pakistan backed terrorists. After the post Godhra riots in an ostentatious show of arrogance he launched a ‘Gaurav Yatra’ to position himself as the champion of Gujarati pride. While those affected from the riots were still putting whatever was left of their lives together in refugee camps, Modi decided to crack a cruel joke and celebrate Gujarati pride!! Between October 2002 and November 2006, in trying to project a ‘tough on terrorism’ stand, the Gujarat administration has been accused of carrying out 21 ‘extra judicial’ encounter killings including those of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Ishrat Jahan. Most of these were of ‘terrorists’, sent to kill Modi, said the police without a shred of verifiable evidence. Perhaps Modi’ biggest public relations coup has been to land on the cover of TIME magazine. This has been possible after a sustained public relations campaign projecting Modi as a ‘Vikas Purush’. Modi’s claims of ‘development’ and ‘progress’ have been as bogus as those made by the NDA(National Democratic Alliance) government at the centre previously in their ‘India Shining’ campaign. The fact is Gujarat has always been a highly industrialized state with impressive growth rates throughout history. From 2000 to 2009, Modi’s Gujarat was placed fourth in attracting FDI(Foreign Direct Investment), it fell to the sixth place in 2011. According to the Planning commission, Gujarat’s poverty reduction rate falls behind that of Bihar, UP, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. The prevalence of malnutrition among children under five is 44% in Gujarat, a figure higher than UP’s.>

Ian Kershaw, a British historian and an expert on Nazi Germany once said,

“the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”.

While Modi continues to elicit extreme opinions of support and opposition, most people seem to have forgotten the events of Gujarat 2002. ‘Why rekindle such tragic memories now?’, is the common refrain. They are largely indifferent to his crimes and seem ready to forgive him. A battle needs to be waged against this tragic amnesia. The ramifications of our response to Gujrat 2002 are not limited to Gujrat alone, they relate to the nature of our state, our citizenship, the very idea of India. Do we want to create a state where people in power decide who deserves justice and who doesn’t? do we surrender the rights and security of our minorities to people driven by prejudice, hate and bigotry?, do we tell a section of our society that just because they do not conform to some arbitrary conventions, they are second class citizens? People tend to label the entire Modi debate as ‘secularism vs communalism’. It is in fact simpler than that, it is an opposition against visceral hate and injustice, the kind that insidiously gnaws away at a nation’s soul.

To make sure that Modi is held responsible for his misdeeds legally, politically and morally, the battle of perceptions has to be won. For this the story of Gujrat 2002 needs to be etched eternally in public memory, if we are to arrive at justice and reconciliation, the first step needs to be acknowledgment.

This is  a guest post by Sai Krishna. He is pursuing MBBS at Kasturba Medical College (KMC), Manipal. Sai Krishna is a self-confessed Politics and Current Affairs junkie and wannabe writer.

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