She Stoops But Fails to Conquer
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]adhu Kishwar’s impassioned eulogy of the man in “Modi, Muslims and Media”,just released,portrays a man greatly sinned against. His values and vision are extolled to portray a secularist most grievously arraigned for his alleged anti-Muslim bias and role in the Godhra-Gujarat holocaust of 2002. Inexperience in governance is repeatedly cited in extenuation of lacking a firm grip over the administration and the policeboth as chief minister and home minister.
Written after an extended six-month Modi-oriented tour of Gujarat, capped by 15 hours of taped interviews with him, the treatise is an authorised defence of Modi’s record as he bids to become prime minister. Madhu Kishwar argues that his initial success as CM lay in winning Muslim approbation in a hitherto communally-polarised state through his equal-opportunity approach towards all irrespective of creed. He converted the Bhuj earthquake tragedy (January 2001) that had crippled Muslim businesses and livelihoods in Kutch into an essay in reconstruction and hope, heralding the vision of a new Gujarat for all. In consequence he received considerable Muslim backing in winning the Rajkot by-election towards the end of February 2002.The loss of its Muslim vote bank had alarmed the Congress which planned to stop Modi in his tracks. Hence a “pre-planned conspiracy” to discredit him amid post-9/11 fears of a Pakistan-backed terror offensive against India during the Operation Parakaram military stand-off between the two countries. Alongside, the Parivar felt that it had lost political ground, especially in U.P, by slackening its drive to build a Ram Janmabhoomi temple on the site of the Babri Masjid that it had brought down in 1992, under NDA’s coalitional compulsions. Hence a campaign to commence construction of the mandir in Ayodhya on March 15, to which end thousands of Ram sevaks had travelled to Ayodhya from January 2002 onwards from all parts of the country to take the pledge. It was the return of some 2000 Gujarati Ram sevaks from Faizabad that triggered the destruction of coaches S-6 and S-7 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra station on the morning of February 27.
What Justice Bannerjee, the Railway Inquiry Commissioner later concluded was an “accident” was however immediately termed by the BJP as a diabolicalplotto set Gujarat communally aflame in conjunction with Pakistani-trained jihadis, a verdict confirmed in 2008 by Justice Nanavati.
The Bannerjee report was dubbed “illegal” and suppressed as this commission was appointed even as the Nanavati Commission was already seized of the matter from March 2002. But why Nanavati should have taken six years to deliver his preliminary report and has yet to submit his final report after 21 extensions merits examination. In any event, the main Godhra accused were ultimately released and the Hyderabad Forensic Science Institute’s report proving why carriage S-6/7 could not have been set afire from outside, was junked without explanation.
Madhu Kishwar cites Muslims and others like Zafar Sareshwala, an Ahmedabad-based businessman, who found Modi’s conduct obnoxious in 2002 but saw in him a changed man who dealt even-handedly with all in 2008 and thereafter. One need not doubt Zafar Sareshwala’s motives but Modi’s good conduct later clearly cannot obviate earlier wrong conduct about which he was in no doubt. Having fought in vain for justice with Modi for years, Sareshwala decided to see if he could come to terms with the man, tactically born-again after having accomplished his design.
And what was that design? In a broadcast over Doordarshan, Ahmedabad, on February 28, the CM said “I want to assure the people, that Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident (Godhra).The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this. We will set an example that nobody, not even his dreams thinks of committing a heinous crime like this”. No hint whatsoever of due process here but the menacing threat of setting a hideous example. Due process was wilfully obstructed and delayed – with a stubborn intent to delay or deny the filing of FIRs in many cases – while a terrifying example was set of barbaric mob fury.
In a subsequent news item broadcast by DD thereafter, Modi observed “If raising issues of justice or injustice adds fuel to the fire, we will have to observe restraint and invoke peace”. (See Editor’s Guild Report, May 3, 2002). What an absolutely chilling statement, never contradicted. So justice is a provocation. Abjure it- or else! And that has been the story of Gujarat post-2002: seeking an elusive justice, which alone can bring closure and reconciliation. The Centre was supine though Vajpayee temporarily agonised and called on Modi to observe Raj Dharma and quit. Advani and other hard-core elements saved him.
Modi not only prevented justice, but expressed no remorse for the many innocents slaughtered or burned alive. Madhu Kishwar repeatedly glosses over the brutal vivisection of Ehsan Jafri, a good and respected figure and former M.P. His residence, Gulberg Society, had drawn hundreds of terrified Muslims seeking a safe haven. It was besieged by howling mobs for hours while Jafri repeatedly appealed for help by phone and word of mouth. Nothing availed. The mob set on him as he came out to make a last appeal for calm and was butchered because he allegedly opened “private fire”, an unproven charge. But is self-defence against a murderous mob a grave provocation?
Maya Kodani, later a BJP MLA and Minister, and Babu Bajrangi of the Bajrang Dal, sentenced for life for leading roles in the NarodaPatiya massacre, find no mention in the book. There is no reference to the massive looting and destruction of Muslim shops and establishments, economic boycott of Muslims, the attack on the Waqf Board and the Minorities Finance and Development Corporation located in the Old Secretariat in Gandhinagar, the fact that Muslim judges had to flee their homes after being threatened by rampaging mobs and much else. The residence of Prof J.S Bandukwala, a respected pillar of communal harmony, was ravaged. The calculated destruction and desecration of Muslim dargahs and shrines with impunity went unpunished. Modi astonishingly pleaded lack of knowledge about the fate of Wali Gujarati. This historic monument structure was demolished, the rubble cleared and a paved road built over it overnight. Madhu Kishwar claims that the Mayor of Ahmedabad was a Congressman and so this must have been a Congress plot and not something for Modi to answer!
Modi justified the presence of two ministers in the police control rooms in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar as this was the best place from which to interact with the public! Neither minister was concerned with law and order. The CM pleaded shortage of officers. Yet five good and true police officials who held their ground against marauding mobs were transferred on promotion soon thereafter! No relief camps were set up by the State. Private relief camps were given delayed “recognition” which deprived them of essential rations, kerosene and other supplies. “Borders” and “frontiers”, beyond which lay “Pakistan”, were shamefully marked out, walls and fencing erected. Muslims were ghettoised. These illegalities went unpunished.
The official press notes of the Information Department showed distinct anti-Muslim bias with stories eulogising Modi (“chhoteSardar”) and Advani and solicitude for rehabilitating Hindu businesses .The riots attracted little notice. The Kishwar apologia does not wash away the stains of the Gujarat pogrom, 2002.