Will Modi get away?

Between the lines

Politicians often make loaded remarks to convey what they have in mind without spelling it out explicitly. However, when a country’s prime minister takes to such an exercise, it means he wants to say something specific but does not like to face the storm it might evoke.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has said at Kolkata that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has given more jobs to Muslims than the Left government in West Bengal. He may be factually correct. But does this lessen Modi’s crime of planning and executing the killing of Muslims in 2002? Roughly 3,000 Muslims were killed and many more thousands looted and ousted from their homes and lands.

If Modi has given some jobs to Muslims, he has not in any way made amends for his diabolical scheme of ethnic cleansing. It is unfortunate that the prime minister should commend Modi at a crucial state election campaign. In a way he has tried to cover up the biggest mass murder after independence. This uncalled for praise of Modi is ominous in many ways. The supreme court has appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reopen the cases of fake encounters and other crimes. The Gujarat government and, more so, Modi is in the dock. Do the prime minister’s remarks reflect in any way the Central government’s thinking on the judgment? The verdict is yet to be delivered. Modi has already started preparing the ground for criticising the judgment.

Some 14 policemen, who are being prosecuted, have said that they have no faith in the SIT inquiry. Another disclosure has tumbled out of the state’s cupboard. This time the state Inspector General of Police Sanjeev Bhatt has spilled the beans. He has said in an affidavit that Modi wanted the police to let Hindus ‘ventilate their feelings’ and ‘teach a lesson to the Muslims.’ The police officer was referring to a top-level meeting on February 27 after the Godhara incident when a train compartment was set on fire in which some Hindu kar sevaks were burnt to death.

I have had no doubt about Modi’s involvement from day one. When I visited Ahmedabad two days after the killings and talked to men and women in refugee camps, I could reconstruct a story of a pre-meditated murder of Muslims in the entire Gujarat state and their forcible eviction from homes and hearths. It was a familiar pattern of killing and looting, with police staying at distance.

It is apparent that India’s secular polity did little even after knowing Modi’s culpability. Seven years ago the supreme court took notice of fake encounters for the first time. It appointed SIT under its own supervision. Even though late, the entire conspiracy is being peeled out like the skin of an onion. SIT has submitted the report to the supreme court this week with the finding on whether Modi had actually ordered police officers to take no action against rioters.

Helpless Vajpayee

One person who could have taken action against Modi was BJP’s prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, during whose tenure the massacre took place. I believe that he wanted to dismiss Modi. But the RSS, the BJP’s mentor and leaders like L K Advani did not allow the prime minister to act. On his own Vajpayee, did not have the political support to take on the RSS and Advani at the same time.

All eyes are focused on the supreme court, although there are allegations that SIT has been selective in admitting evidence. Bhatt’s affidavit was not even considered when he submitted it for the first time. Whether his fresh affidavit was taken into account before SIT gave its report is not known.

The question which the government of India has to answer is whether it would take any action at all. If it were a matter of moral responsibility, the chief minister should have quit long ago. Instead, Modi has built a campaign to show how Gujarat has achieved 12 per cent growth rate and how his tight administration was an example for the rest of the country. In fact, top industrialists have been taken in by this propaganda when they met at Ahmedabad two years ago to declare Modi as the best person to be the country’s prime minister. These things hardly matter against what Modi did in 2002.

Ultimately, the Centre would have to decide how to punish Modi. I do not think that the Manmohan Singh government or, for that matter, the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress has the gumption to do anything even if the supreme court passes strictures against Modi, without directly blaming him. The prime minister’s remark at Kolkata indicates his attitude.
What the nation has to worry about is that one Modi has distorted India’s ethos of pluralism. That he has brainwashed most Gujaratis is a dangerous development. The very ideology of secularism is endangered if Modi gets away with what he did.

It would be a tragedy if such planned killings as happened in Gujarat are decided in a way where he gets the benefit of doubt. Modi’s is a test case for the entire nation, particularly the minorities. Neither the court nor the Centre can afford to play with India’s basic structure of the constitution: democratic, secular polity.

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