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Menace Of Moditva

By Amulya Ganguli

The Hindustan Times
30 June, 2003

The smiling 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 the riots.

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.