Concerned Citizens Tribunal - Gujarat 2002
An inquiry into the carnage in Gujarat

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Political Backdrop to the Carnage

The political backdrop of the Gujarat carnage is not insignificant given the cynical use of communal violence by political parties of all hues in the past. Having assumed power in Gujarat in 1998 after winning by an overwhelming two-thirds majority, the BJP has since been suffering defeat in local elections for reasons that need not be gone into here.

In the panchayat, taluka and district elections that took place in 2000, two-thirds of the areas were won by Congress. That was the first major defeat BJP suffered after coming to power. In the elections to six municipal corporations, to 25 district panchayats and to the closer-to-the-ground taluka elections held simultaneously in December 2000, the BJP lost heavily. It lost control in almost all the district panchayats. It retained four of the six municipalities but its two losses were in the most prestigious municipalities of Ahmedabad and Rajkot, where the Sangh Parivar had its strongest foothold. The BJP had held the Ahmedabad corporation for the last 15 years and Rajkot for the last 25 years. The Congress party was the biggest beneficiary of the BJP’s electoral reversals.

In September 2001, the BJP lost to the Congress in the by-elections for two assembly seats that were held. Shortly after that debacle, chief minister Keshubhai Patel was replaced by Narendra Modi in a bid to arrest the party’s dwindling fortunes in a state that the Sangh Parivar considers to be the ‘Laboratory of Hindutva’. However, in by-elections held on February 24, 2002, for three assembly seats, all of which were held previously by the BJP, it lost two of them by heavy margins to the Congress. Modi was elected from Rajkot, the third constituency, but by a much-reduced margin as compared to the previous poll.

Given the continuous downslide of the BJP in the state since ’98, the question has been raised by many as to whether there were any electoral-political calculations and machinations behind what subsequently happened in the state from February 28 onwards. While this remains in the realm of speculation, the fact is that the Modi government prematurely dissolved the state assembly and pushed very hard for early elections even though the situation in the state was far from normal. For this he was widely criticised and the BJP was charged for trying to cash in on the carnage. The impression certainly gained ground that with the BJP consistently losing at the grass-root level and with assembly elections in the offing, Modi cynically tried to use the politics of division and violence to gain a fresh mandate from the people. That his plan was frustrated because of the assessment of the Chief Election Commissioner, JM Lyngdoh that in the prevailing circumstances, a free and fair poll was not possible in Gujarat reaffirms the common citizens’ faith in constitutionalism and the rule of law.


Published by: Citizens for Justice and Peace