|Date: 23 May 2002|
Source: Hindustan Times
Author: Gulam K. Noon
It was nothing but a pogrom in Mahatma Gandhi’s home state of Gujarat. Hindu-Muslim riots are not new to India but what is new is State-sponsored terrorism. Narendra Modi’s government is guilty of ethnic cleansing. Modi is India's Milosevic.
It is no longer merely a breakdown of law and order but the total absence of law.
An 11-year-old boy testified to the National Human Rights Commission how his family ran to the State Reserve Police post to escape the mob but were told to go back or be shot (by the police). He then saw his mother and sister being stabbed to death.
A mother who had given birth to a baby at 10 pm was forced to run with her baby at 11 am the next morning when the mobs came. She escaped but her husband was killed and their house burnt down.
A nine-year-old boy watched a mob rape and kill his 20-year-old sister.
There are several similar cases of abject savagery. There are hundreds of traumatised orphans in the refugee camps. About 100,000 people languish in those camps, mainly women and children. Their breadwinners are dead. Their homes have been burnt to discourage them from going back. In one incident in Ahmedabad, 50 abandoned Muslim homes were burnt down. The calculation is that they will leave Gujarat.
The massacre was sparked off by the horrific incident on February 28 when kar sewaks were returning by train from the disputed mosque/temple site at Ayodhya. The struggle over Ayodhya has raged for 10 years and Hindu militants, including politicians now in power, have built their political fortunes on it; but in the process they have polarised the country.
On February 28, rabid Muslims surrounded a bogey and burnt it in Godhra. Nothing can justify this killing of 58 people. Their murderers should be brought to justice and dealt with severely. Such criminals cannot call themselves either Hindu or Muslim. God does not condone murder.
Retribution was swift and deadly. Muslims were systematically hunted down and killed. These were not spontaneous revenge killings. The mobs were provided copies of electoral rolls to help them identify Muslim localities and businesses. Modi’s ministers were sitting in police stations to direct operations. All this has been well documented by the Indian press.
The police turned partisan and refused to register cases of rape and murder of Muslims. Decent officers, who did their duty and protected the people, were promptly transferred. The administrative service abdicated its responsibility — it takes only one district magistrate to bring a riot under control in a few hours if he does his job. Sixty-three days later, the killings were going on.
Modi took over as Gujarat chief minister at a time when the BJP’s electoral fortune was waning. Modi appears to have seized upon the Godhra incident as an excuse to massacre Muslims in order to swing the majority Hindu votes in his favour. State elections are not due in Gujarat for another year but Modi wishes to bring the date forward and go to the polls now. His disgraceful move to gain political capital from the carnage was supported by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. Only the hue and cry raised by the press has temporarily stalled the plan.
One of the biggest disappointments has been Vajpayee. He was given credit for being a secular, liberal man who believed in a pluralistic, democratic society. No longer. That mask was torn off in Goa on April 12 when his rhetoric was that of an RSS pracharak rather than of a responsible leader of a mixed electorate. Vajpayee has lost the moral authority to govern. The BJP can no longer pretend to be a political party that believes in pluralism and democracy.
Politicians have meddled for so long with the judiciary, the administrative services and the police force that the steel framework of which India was once so proud has turned to straw in Gujarat. Veteran police chief Julio Riberio said
that Gujarat has made him feel ashamed of having once belonged to the police force. He also recommended that the police and Indian Administrative Service in Gujarat be abolished because Modi and his ministers have taken all powers into their own hands.
Indian Muslims must take their share of the blame for the conflict. They remain amongst the most ill-educated, poor and unemployed. Self-styled leaders such as Imam Bukhari of Delhi — whose claim to represent all Indian Muslims is as bogus as the claim of the Hindu militants to represent all Hindus — have encouraged the community to remain backward. It is a type of colonialism. The Babri mosque dispute is a good case in point.
The mosque was a disused building in 1991 and had been locked up for over 50 years. Some Hindus claim that site as the birthplace of Lord Rama. Since the mosque was a disused one, the question should have been peacefully resolved with Muslims accommodating the demands of the majority community. A sensible Muslim leadership would have done that and not make an issue out of it.
The Saudi government, for example, has destroyed dozens of mosques to build roads. In Britain, a disused church has been turned into a Hindu cultural centre, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. During the Bosnia conflict, 1,242 mosques were destroyed by the Serbs.
Instead, the Ayodhya conflict has raged for 10 years. Militant Hindus politicised the issue and rode to power on it. Thousands of poor people have died (it is always the poor who die). How many more innocent lives must be lost before there is a sensible resolution?
Muslims, who chose to live in the country after 1947, as did my family, owe their first allegiance to India. It is the Prophet’s command that a good Muslim obeys the laws of the country where he lives.
The Congress has done virtually nothing in Gujarat. We have seen no mass mobilisation of people, no sustained opposition to Modi on the streets. There was a similar, shameful incident in 1984 when the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi presided over the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi that went un-checked for three days. Then, as now, Congressmen led mobs armed with electoral lists and burnt and looted Sikh homes. None of them has been brought to justice.
The naked pursuit of power in India has stripped politics of any meaningful issues. Education, employment, housing or medical benefits are not on the agenda. Instead, the issues are caste, religion and money. Votes are counted in blocks — the Hindu/Muslim block vote, the Dalit vote, the Sikh vote etc. Organised conflict is often the method of scaring the votes into your corner. The greatest disservice the BJP has done is to misrepresent the catholic nature of Hinduism and try turn it into a dogmatic body of beliefs. The politics of hate is threatening to tear India apart.
What message has Gujarat given to the rest of the world?
That India is unsafe. Who would want to invest in a country that cannot guarantee security of life and property? India will miss out on opportunities thrown up by the globalisation of the economy. London-based industries that could have located their auxiliary factories in India have chosen to go to China where labour is equally cheap but security is guaranteed.
Overseas Indians are an emotional lot and would like to invest in India — but who can risk having their business burnt down one fine day? Such blatant lawlessness as witnessed in Gujarat will deter all except the most foolhardy.
Deepak Parekh, chairman of India’s leading housing finance firm, HDFC, said: “What is a government elected for? If they cannot protect innocent lives, they should go. What kind of government allows the killing of women and children?”
At the very least, Narendra Modi should be asked to resign or be dismissed.
The writer is an industrialist and President of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry. These are his personal views.