Of A Fascist Kind
By J. Sri Raman
16 July 2004
t r u t h o u t
India - Four blood-splattered bodies lay sprawled on a road in Ahmedabad,
capital of the State of Gujarat in India.
That was on June
15 of this year. Two years before, over the four months from February
to June, some 3,000 bodies littered the streets, lanes and bylanes of
the entire state.
The killings of
the four grew out of the earlier massacre, and are no less a tragedy
than the larger-scale carnage.
them are the reactions - and non-reactions - to the June killings. These
are what make these killings a tragedy equal to the mass anti-Muslim
offensive in the State under a fascist regime.
Behind the killings
then and now looms the same bearded figure that has come to symbolize
Indian fascism at its most brazen. It is the diminutive figure of diabolically
crafty Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat through both the tragedies.
Modi presided over
the government-aided pogrom against the Muslim minority in 2002. And
the four Muslim youths - including a teenage girl - were officially
described as "terrorists" involved in a plot to assassinate
Modi. They were said to have been shot dead in an "encounter"
with the police near the Chief Minister's residence.
The official story
had no surprises about the source of the alleged threat to Modi's life.
The plot against a passionately anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan patriot
like Modi was linked to Kashmir militant organization Lashkar-e-Toiba
(LeT) and, hold your breath, to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
There were apparently
no other witnesses to the "encounter" that was said to have
taken place at "an isolated spot" in the early hours of the
day. The bodies had firearms across them. Not a single policeman, however,
had a scratch to show for the claimed "shoot-out" of about
This placed the
incident in the category of "encounter killings", a phrase
by now familiar to India's newspaper-readers and television-viewers.
The phrase has been made familiar by civil rights campaigners over the
years. It refers to mystery-shrouded police killings of targets, especially
"extremists" of various kinds, to killings for which lawless
law-keepers see no need to provide elaborate explanations.
the minuscule community of civil rights campaigners had been raising
the issue of "encounter killings". A welcome change was witnessed
after the Ahmedabad affair.
The initial public
and political reactions to the killings was heartening indeed to anyone
attaching any importance to human rights. Notable, above all, was the
way the overused official formula of such occasions failed to work this
time. Talk of the Kashmir "terrorists" and Pakistani ties
failed to prompt tears for Modi.
The story, in fact,
elicited a cynical reaction in the streets. The entire episode was widely
seen as a ploy by Modi facing trouble then inside his own Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP). Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, facing
inner-party flak for losing the recent general election, blamed the
defeat on Modi and the massacre of 2002. The campaign for Modi's removal
from power was gathering momentum in the party when his police announced
the assassination of four would-be assassins.
went, in particular, to the girl, Ishrat Jahan, of Mumbai (formerly
Bombay). Everyone who knew the girl, a young breadwinner for her family,
was emphatic in dismissing all talk of her as a possible "terrorist".
Her funeral procession in Mumbai was an emotional upheaval, kept in
check only the resolve of the community to refuse further grist to the
The political reactions
were swift and sharp as well. The opposition Congress Party in Gujarat
minced no words and called for a federal investigation into the incident.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), partnering the Congress in power
in Mumbai, capital of neighboring Maharashtra State, presented a hefty
purse to Ishrat's family.
Civil rights activists
called for an inquiry into the episode by India's National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC). They did not think that the NHRC had done its duty
by asking the Gujrat police, of all the agencies, to investigate the
For full four days,
the Gujarat police had no evidence to present the persistently demanding
opposition and sections of the media. Then, it came out with two "diaries",
allegedly kept by the "terrorists": who could not question
any official tale. The "diaries", of course, had "details"
that ostensibly bore out every bit of the police story.
With that, suddenly,
as if on cue, the situation changed - a la the situation in Iraq, for
some people, with the adoption of the latest UN resolution on it! The
Gujarat police had no further evidence to exhibit - and it is a fair
guess that it has not gained in credibility since the dark days of 2002.
Others have not cited other evidence, either. Modi, however, has become
a near-martyr, even to political and media quarters that should know
the "encounter" provoked a growl from the Shuv Sena, a far-Right
party, and its founder-fuehrer Bal Thackeray, in Mumbai. The NCP waited
for no more. It hastened to question Ishrat's connections," and
forced her indignant family to return the party's money. The Congress
has opted for quietness on the issue.
Kashmir police - not the last word in credibility either - has dropped
very dark hints about discovering links between the LeT and the Ahmedabad
affair. And New Delhi has not dissociated itself from the finding.
This may be seen
as the shadow of the coming elections in States, including Maharashtra,
on the Congress and the NCP. The cynical idea may be to deny the NJP
the deemed advantage of an anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan vote. This,
however, cannot explain the somersault performed by a so far proudly
For an example
close to home, 'The Hindu', a national newspaper based in Chennai, known
for its pro-secularism policies, has just carried a series of front-page
reports on the Ahmedabad killings. The unconcealed purpose of these
reports is to preach the gospel according to the Gujarat police.
TV channels - initially
quick to raise uncomfortable questions about the incident - have all
chosen to come belatedly to the aid of the beleaguered Chief Minister.
All their amended stories, again, rest as solidly ass they possibly
can on the story of the Gujarat police and no other source.
in the process, the debate has been reduced to: was it a plot to kill
Modi or not? No political party or media pundit is raising the more
fundamental question about "encounter killings". It is days,
too, since we have heard the demand for an independent investigation
of the incident.
The episode, perhaps,
is an illustration of what even a brief encounter with fascist power
can do to a country.
It is also a call
to the people for a continued encounter of a militant kind with a force
that an election alone cannot exile.
J. Sri Raman A freelance
journalist and a peace activist of India. Her is the author of Flashpoint
(Common Courage Press, USA).