March-April  2002 

Sangh is their soul

In the language of the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): "It is the primary and inescapable responsibility of the State to protect the right to life, liberty, equality and dignity of all of those who constitute it. It is also the responsibility of the State to ensure that such rights are not violated either through overt acts, or through abetment or negligence. It is a clear and emerging principle of human rights jurisprudence that the State is responsible not only for the acts of its own agents, but also for the acts of non-State players acting within its jurisdiction. The State is, in addition, responsible for any inaction that may cause or facilitate the violation of human rights."

Deepak Parekh, chairman of HDFC, has puts the same thing in the language of the common man: A government that cannot protect the life of citizens has no right to rule.

Tested against this elementary and primary criteria of a government’s right to rule, it is evident that while armed mobs looted, torched and blasted Muslim homes, businesses, dargahs and masjids, gang-raped women, chopped men, women and children into pieces before flinging them into fire, in Ahmedabad city and numerous other parts of the state on February 28 and for days thereafter, Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, reminded most Indians of Slobodan Milosevic rather than a constitutional authority sworn to maintain law and order.

The Centre’s role in ignoring the Gujarat carnage and concentrating on Gujarat is both apparent and condemnable. Early on February 27, the Centre had been informed about the Godhra incident. The PM cancelled his Gujarat visit but when on February 28, reports began pouring in of the orchestrated targeting of Muslims in 16 of the 25 districts of Gujarat neither the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee nor the union home minister, L.K.Advani —in who’s parliamentary constituency incidentally, one of the worst massacres took place (Gulmerg Society where ex-MP, Ehsan Jafri lived) even instructed their man, CM Narendra Modi to crack down.

Later that day, Vajpayee met RSS leaders to discuss not what VHP activists were doing in Gujarat but the Ayodhya issue; and finally, after some 70 people had been killed, the Cabinet Committee of Security met and decided only to place the Army on alert.

For the rest, he did tell them he had come to share their sorrow but he said not a word about his constitutional obligation to ensure that the persons responsible for their acute trauma and grief would be subjected to the due process of law and punished. For public consumption, after his visit to the relief camps, Vajpayee advised Modi to follow his ‘raj dharam’. Modi was quick to respond that that is precisely what he had been doing since February 28!

Barely a week later, he revealed his inner self when, from the comfort of his parivar (‘The Sangh is my soul’), Vajpayee proclaimed at the meeting of the BJP’s national council in Goa: Wherever there are Muslims, there is a problem.
Vajpayee’s comments at the BJP National executive meet in Goa are telling and indictive. They have invited utter condemnation of India both within India and internationally. He said, "What happened in Gujarat? If the passengers of the Sabarmati express, innocent, unblameworthy had not been deliberately burnt alive, Gujarat ki trasadhi could have been avoided. But this did not happen. People were burnt alive.

The message in short is clear: from this Prime Minister of India, one can only expect poetry and shocking prejudice. His remarks could well be taken from any one of the hate pamphlets that people from his parivar circulate in lakhs all over Gujarat in order to create the appropriate social climate for violence. We can have no expectations that he holds himself, or Narendra Modi, or the police force at the latter’s command, in anyway responsible for the fulfillment of their primary constitutional responsibility – protecting the life of citizens.

The home minister, of course, did no better. In the context of Godhra and the ‘natural reaction’ that followed in the rest of Gujarat, LK Advani has made three major contributions:

One: On March 1 itself, Advani announced that though there is no conclusive evidence as yet, preliminary investigations by the Central agencies suggest "pre-meditated" action and indicate that the "needle of suspicion" points towards some "outside elements."

As detailed elsewhere in this report, investigating officials directed to probe the Godhra tragedy have concluded that, heinous as the crime of people being trapped and burnt alive in a train compartment is, nothing in the evidence they have gathered suggests that it was pre-planned. Despite this, it is a proposition which for some reason, pleases both Modi and Advani greatly. Why?

Two: Advani would like everyone to appreciate that a distinction must be made between the Godhra tragedy, which was "an act of terrorism," and the subsequent carnage in Gujarat, which was something far less problematic – it was only a "communal riot" as in this there was no element of causing "terror" amongst people.

Three: Advani will not accept that the Gujarat police played a passive role in quelling communal riots in the state. Addressing a news conference in Ahmedabad on March 1, he said, "So far, 77 deaths due to police firing have been reported in the state." What Advani would not report was the fact that of the 40 persons killed in police firing in Ahmedabad in the first two days, 36 were Muslims! Did Modi mislead Advani, or did Advani choose to be sparing in his partial service to truth?

Four: When asked by journalists, Advani said he agreed with the PM in condemning the ‘communal violence’ in Gujarat: "It was definitely a blot on the nation." The communal flare-up in Gujarat spoilt the good track record of the coalition government at the Centre, he said.

Advani has consistently ridiculed the demand for Modi’s dismissal. Clearly for Advani, and for Vajpayee, it is the ‘Parivar’ before constitutional principles. In early ’99, Vajpayee visited Gujarat after the national press, the Christian community in India and Human Rights groups had been reporting and agitating for months about the growing attacks on Christians in the BJP ruled state. On his return from Gujarat, the Prime Minister said not a word on the numerous attacks on churches and church people, the burning of Bibles or the members of his parivar who continued to terrorise Christians. Instead, he demanded "a national debate on conversions!"

Barely a few weeks later, Graham Staines was torched to death along with his two young sons inside a jeep in Orissa. When newspapers reported that the prime accused, Dara Singh belonged to the Bajrang Dal, Advani rushed to his Parivar’s defense with the disclaimer: "I know these people (Bajrang Dal), they will never do such a thing."

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