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Gujarat: The Wheels Of
Justice Get Moving

By Jyotirmaya Sharma

22 August, 2004
The Hindu

"Muslims are repeating history. Their main aim is not to destroy maximum possible Hindu Temples, but to destroy Hindu Religion and Hindu culture and to rape Hindu ladies ... If Hindus won't awake with these incidents, Hindu religion and Hindu culture would be finished ... Hindu Youth, now it is time to test your courage and strength. Prepare bombs, Dharias, Sticks, prepare bows to throw burning missiles. Leave defensive policy and attack now. Arise to avenge insult to our temples and ladies, and rush to Muslim areas with weapons and finish them."

Those familiar with the highly charged communal rhetoric of the Sangh Parivar will find nothing startling or new in the above quote. The reason for its recall is to illustrate that its genesis shares little with Godhra 2002 and its bloody aftermath, though the sentiment evoked is very much part of the jihadi Hindutva prescribed by the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates. These lines, in fact, are taken from a leaflet titled "Awake Hindus — Awake Youths," distributed by the Hindu Sangram Samiti during and after the communal riots in Gujarat in September 1969.

Despite a long history of communal riots in Gujarat, why is it, then, that Narendra Modi and his Government have come to represent the most diabolical form of communalism in independent India's history?

The difference

Jan Breman, the sociologist, writing in April 2002, succinctly describes the distinctiveness of the riots of February-March 2002: "In Spring 2002, the religious cleansing operation has been more severe, larger in scale and longer lasting than on earlier occasions, mainly because the state apparatus — both the leading political party and government agencies — condoned or even facilitated the pogrom, rather than stopped it, while it was taking place in late February and early March."

More than two years after the Godhra incident and the riots that followed, a process of making the State Government and Sangh Parivar politicians accountable has ensued, entirely as a result of the tenacity of civil and human rights groups, NGOs, and, most significantly, the Supreme Court of India.

Court strictures

In the context of the Best Bakery and Bilkis Bano cases, the highest court in the land gave significant and trendsetting judgments in individual cases.

The Court's strictures against the Modi Government were marked by an unprecedented severity, where the Judges called the Gujarat Government a bunch of "modern day Neros," who were guilty of looking elsewhere when "Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning."

But the April 12, 2004 judgment went a step further. It also commented on how the "modern day Neros" were "probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be protected." Almost five months later, the Supreme Court has tightened the noose around those who were protecting the perpetrators of the crime as well as those who were protected till now.

The August 17 judgment of the apex court is singularly significant for imputing collective responsibility on the entire State Government machinery, the criminal investigation department and the lower courts for allowing summary dismissal of more than half of the 4256 cases registered during and after the riots, and asking for a reinvestigation of all such cases.

The political implications of the August 17 judgment are far-reaching. Scores of Bharatiya Janata Party, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal leaders and activists are accused of active involvement in arson, murder and instigating riots. The State Government machinery, till recently, went the proverbial extra mile to protect them. Reopening more than 2000 cases makes those implicated vulnerable.

Without assured protection, a depletion in the BJP's political base and a resultant demoralisation among its cadres is inevitable. Their ire is bound to turn against Mr. Modi, whose alleged sanction was the very basis for their involvement.

Mr. Modi's woes have been compounded by simmering dissidence against him and growing dissatisfaction among farmers, notably led by the RSS affiliate, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.

BJP's dilemma

The BJP, however, faces a dilemma. The Supreme Court has inaugurated a process of restoration of the rule of law in Gujarat that has now assumed an independent momentum. Removing Mr. Modi is no longer a guarantee for deflecting the Court's gaze from the systematic derailment of all norms of justice and law. Retaining Mr. Modi, on the other hand, will help alienate the cadres even further from the party's leadership.

Sources within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh suggest that it was, indeed, in favour of Mr. Modi's removal, only to be thwarted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee's outburst against the Gujarat Chief Minister in Manali, with the unintended consequence of giving him a fresh lease of life in power. Whether he stays or goes, Mr. Modi has become the BJP's biggest political liability.

Various testimonies to the judicial commission probing Godhra and its aftermath have only increased the discomfiture of the Modi Government. Senior police officials have directly hinted at the complicity of politicians and senior police officials in aiding and abetting the riots.

With a hostile Central Government, a determined Supreme Court, and an unforgiving set of liberal activists pitted against it, the Modi Government will find trampling upon the rule of law and every norm of civil society difficult in the days and weeks ahead.






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