Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani on Monday offered no clear-cut apology for the 2002 Gujarat riots, but said communal riots cannot be justified under any circumstances. On whether the BJP regrets the riots and is willing to apologise, he said there have been many riots in the country and the situations were often mishandled. “There is no question of apology. Riots are a sad matter,” he said.
On Babri Masjid demolition, he said: “our credibility was badly dented that day.” He said leaders of the Ayodhya movement were taken by surprise and it should have been planned properly.
Mr. Advani was answering questions from a panel of editors at a “Face-the-Press,” organised by Press Club of Mumbai.
The panel consisted of N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, Kumar Ketkar of the Dainik Bhaskar group, Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India and Ajit Ranade of the Association for Democratic Reforms. The programme was moderated by Minhaz Merchant of Government Watch.
Mr. Shankar said there were many unanswered questions on Gujarat, especially the BJP's position on the 2002 riots.
Mr. Advani reiterated that the riots cannot be justified. “In 2002, we can't forget that Godhra happened first and there were reactions.”
If anyone in the government did anything wrong, it was looked after by the court. One should accept the court's decision. The demolition of the Babri Masjid happened because the organisation that planned a movement failed to anticipate people's impatience.
Mr. Advani was responding to a question by Mr. Ketkar on tolerance. While Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had apologised for the anti Sikh riots of 1984, no apology was offered for the riots after the 1990-92 rath yatra, which communally divided the country, Mr. Ketkar said. The BJP was a party known for its intolerance and M.F. Husain's paintings were vandalised in most parts of the country and there was no apology, he noted.
“We tolerate corruption but we are intolerant of other points of view; of Husain's point of view of looking at the world,” Mr. Ketkar said.
Mr. Advani responded, saying the BJP had not commented on Husain, but he was for tolerance in the field of art, and vandalism cannot be justified.
In 1984, it was not a riot but a one-sided carnage, he said. Mr. Advani explained the first rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, which was described by some books as a bloody yatra. He quoted a priest from Poland who, in a book said that to the best of his knowledge there was not a single incident of violence except for a protest against the Mandal Commission decision by the V.P. Singh government and Mr. Advani's support for that.
“After December 6, 1992, after the demolition in Ayodhya, there were disturbances in Bombay and I felt so unhappy that day. I wrote an article in the Indian Express a fortnight later in which I said it was the saddest day of my life,” he said. “In Bombay there may have been other reasons too for the riots.” He said his reactions to the 1992 incidents were very consistent. “I value credibility; it is a word that I like the most.” “Whatever I have been able to contribute to the country is because of the credibility that I have earned in my life,” he added. Mr. Advani kicked off the programme by saying that one of the reasons for democracy being successful in India was a general attitude of tolerance to a different point of view.
Mr. Ram asked where he would situate the Indian polity today, looking at the correlation of forces between major Opposition parties, government and allies.
To this, Mr. Advani said that when the NDA tenure was about to end in 2004, he did not doubt that it would get a renewed mandate. “We were optimistic, but while we who worked in the government were optimistic, in the party ranks there was over confidence.”
Usually when a government came to power for the second time, the beginning would be very good. “There is a honeymoon period. Yet in the first one-and-half years of this government, everyone is talking of corruption.”
Mr. Advani complimented The Hindu for publishing WikiLeaks cables on India, throwing light on the cash-for-votes scandal, and for doing something that no other paper in the country was able to do. “Every country, including an old democracy like the United Kingdom, continue to try to improve their governance and position with every new government. Cameron has been putting forward certain ideas which appeal to me,” he said.
“Why can't we have a fixed term legislature; in India we have the Lok Sabha, but we have more than 25 Assemblies.”