30 June, 2003
pictures of Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma
Swaraj on the sidelines of the BJP's recent chintan baithak gave the
impression of a contented parivar. There may have been reason enough.
Modi was probably telling the other three how well his brand of fascism
was doing in Gujarat.
Modi's first success has
been to convince the National Commission for Minorities that no survey
of Christians is being conducted in the state. While the NCM has naively
accepted the official denial, there have been renewed reports of how
inquiries are being made at various Christian institutions about their
sources of funds.
The sinister nature of such
surveys cannot be overstated. They are reminiscent of the way Jewish
houses and establishments were identified in Nazi Germany. It is necessary
to remember a chilling passage in the Srikrishna Commission's report
on the Mumbai riots. It said: "The attacks on Muslims by the Shiv
Sainiks were mounted with military precision with a list of establishments
and voters' list in hand." Details about individuals and institutions
belonging to the minority communities are not safe, therefore, in the
hands of a government with a questionable reputation for impartial behaviour.
Modi's second success has
been virtually to hobble the inquiry into the riots. His first attempt
at scuttling it was by appointing K.G. Shah to conduct the investigations.
As a TADA judge in 1985, Shah had sentenced five Muslims to death. Responding
to an appeal in this case, the Supreme Court acquitted all the accused
in 1990, stating that Shah's "findings were not based on appreciation
of evidence but on imagination".
Once this unflattering reference
to Shah's judicial acumen was
unearthed and reported in the media, the Centre appointed G.T.
Nanavati to head the commission while Shah remained on the panel. Unfortunately,
however, following Nanavati's comment that he hadn't yet found any evidence
of the involvement of the VHP or Bajrang Dal in the riots or of police
inaction, there have been any number of reports of how the witnesses
are being intimidated.
So much so that the National
Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had to be assured by Gujarat's director-general
of police that adequate protection would be provided to the victims
of the riots so that they can depose 'freely and fearlessly' before
the commission. The assurance was in the context of 'good conduct' certificates
given to the police by several witnesses after they had reportedly been
told to assemble at the police headquarters where they were apparently
tutored what to say.
Now that these hamhanded
efforts to peddle untruth before the
commission have come to light, it is possible that at least some
witnesses will summon enough courage to speak their minds. But since
it is quite clear that serious attempts were being made to subvert the
investigations, the nature of the Modi government has been exposed.
Moreover, this wasn't its
first attempt at the subversion of a legal
process. There had been persistent reports during the riots, which
lasted for nearly two-and-a-half months, that the police had been
told to lie low by the state's political leadership. Even after the
riots ended, there were reports about how political bias was
undermining law and order in the state.
For instance, a former chairman
of the NHRC, JS Verma, told a TV interviewer that he wrote to the prime
minister to complain about the Centre's failure "to make things
better" in Gujarat. Verma had evidently lost faith in the Modi
government's ability or willingness to improve conditions in the state.
At about the same time, Poornima Advani, chairperson of the National
Commission for Women, noted that "not many FIRs have been registered"
against suspected rioters while there had been no convictions till then
in the rape cases.
Similarly, the Human Rights
Watch expressed surprise that "no
convictions" had taken place even months after the riots had ended
and little was provided by way of relief to the victims. It
complained that "although the Indian government initially boasted
of thousands of arrests following the attacks, most of those arrested
have since been released on bail, acquitted or simply let off".
After noting that Muslims
had been charged under POTA, the
organisation said that this law had not been used against Hindus. It
said that "the POTA charges show the extent of the bias in the
legal system in Gujarat. The rule of law cannot be draconian for some
and non-existent for others".
Even if any comment on police
inaction during the riots can await the Nanavati Commission's verdict,
it is clear that, first, the Modi
government hadn't been too active in nabbing the guilty and,
secondly, it sought to influence the witnesses into being economical
with the truth. As an upholder of rajdharma, therefore, the doctrine
of impartiality which the prime minister had wanted Modi to follow,
the state government has been a dismal failure.
What is important is that
it wasn't a failure of ability. It was a
deliberate dereliction of duty based, essentially, on the BJP's
perception of minorities as second-class citizens. As a model of what
can be expected in a state where the BJP is in a majority, Gujarat is
a prime example. And it is a matter of concern that the chief exponent
of this deadly model is none other than a person whom the BJP regards
as a hero.
Since neither fairness nor
impartiality can be expected from the Modi government, it is of the
utmost importance that the Nanavati
Commission devotes itself with an even greater sense of urgency than
before to unearth the truth. It must have become aware by now that there
are powerful forces at work whose aim is to frustrate its efforts. Had
there been no NHRC or a free press, these forces would have undoubtedly
succeeded in presenting a distorted picture of what happened during
After all, the commission
would have finished its work in a few
months' time and its members would have been off to attend to other
duties. But any of the witnesses, who dared to depose against the police
or identify their attackers, would have had to stay on in Gujarat and
face harassment or worse. But now that there is a countrywide awareness
of the nefarious efforts that were being made behind the scenes, one
can expect that at least some of the witnesses will be brave enough
to tell the truth. The commission, too, should go out of its way to
assure them of their safety.
The NGOs have an important
role to play in this context. Instead of
boycotting the commission, as some of them are doing, they should forsake
such a defeatist attitude and try all the harder to help it discover
the truth by standing by the scared witnesses. The civil administration
may have failed to do its duty in Gujarat - or was made to fail by its
political masters. But the legal system should succeed. Otherwise, fascism
would continue to flourish in the hapless state.