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All the perfumes of Arabia

Markandey Katju
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Eighteen people were allegedly burned alive in this house in Gulmarg colony in Ahmedabad during the 2002 violence.— Photo: AP
Eighteen people were allegedly burned alive in this house in Gulmarg colony in Ahmedabad during the 2002 violence.— Photo: AP

Narendra Modi is being projected by a large section of Indians as the modern Moses, the one who will lead the beleaguered and despondent Indian people into a land of milk and honey, the man who is best suited to be the next Indian Prime Minister. And it is not just the Bharatiya Janata Party and RSS who are saying this at the Kumbh Mela. A large section of the Indian so-called ‘educated’ class, including many of our ‘educated’ youth, who have been carried away by Mr. Modi’s propaganda is saying this.

I was flying from Delhi to Bhopal recently. Sitting beside me was a Gujarati businessman. I asked him his opinion of Mr. Modi. He was all praise for him. I interjected and asked him about the killing of nearly 2,000 Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat. He replied that Muslims were always creating problems in Gujarat, but after 2002 they have been put in their place and there is peace since then in the State. I told him this is the peace of the graveyard, and peace can never last long unless it is coupled with justice. At this remark he took offence and changed his seat on the plane.

The truth today is that Muslims in Gujarat are terrorised and afraid that if they speak out against the horrors of 2002 they may be attacked and victimised. In the whole of India, Muslims (who number over 200 million) are solidly against Mr. Modi (though there are a handful of Muslims who for some reason disagree).

Dubious spontaneity

It is claimed by Modi supporters that what happened in Gujarat was only a ‘spontaneous’ reaction ( pratikriya ) of Hindus to the killing of 59 Hindus on a train in Godhra. I do not buy this story. First, there is still mystery as to what exactly happened in Godhra. Secondly, the particular persons who were responsible for the Godhra killings should certainly be identified and given harsh punishment, but how does this justify the attack on the entire Muslim community in Gujarat? Muslims are only 9 per cent of the total population of Gujarat, the rest being mostly Hindus. In 2002 Muslims were massacred, their homes burnt, and other horrible crimes committed on them.

To call the killings of Muslims in 2002 a spontaneous reaction reminds one of Kristallnacht in Germany in November 1938, when the entire Jewish community in Germany was attacked, many killed, their synagogues burnt, shops vandalised after a German diplomat in Paris was shot dead by a Jewish youth whose family had been persecuted by the Nazis. It was claimed by the Nazi government that this was only a ‘spontaneous’ reaction, but in fact it was planned and executed by the Nazi authorities using fanatic mobs.

In terms of historical evolution, India is broadly a country of immigrants and consequently, it is a land of tremendous diversity. Hence, the only policy which can hold it together and put it on the path of progress is secularism — equal respect and treatment to all communities and sects. This was the policy of the great Emperor Akbar, which was followed by our founding fathers (Pandit Nehru and his colleagues) who gave us a secular Constitution. Unless we follow this policy, our country cannot survive for one day, because it has so much diversity, so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups.

India, therefore, does not belong to Hindus alone; it belongs equally to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsees, Jains etc. Also, it is not only Hindus who can live in India as first-rate citizens while others have to live as second or third rate citizens. All are first-rate citizens here. The killing of thousands of Muslims and other atrocities on them in Gujarat in 2002 can never be forgotten or forgiven. All the perfumes in Arabia cannot wash away the stain on Mr. Modi in this connection.

It is said by his supporters that Mr. Modi had no hand in the killings, and it is also said that he had not been found guilty by any court of law. I do not want to comment on our judiciary, but I certainly do not buy the story that Mr. Modi had no hand in the events of 2002. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time when horrible events happened on such a large scale. Can it be believed that he had no hand in them? At least I find this impossible to believe.

Let me give just one example. Ehsan Jafri was a respected, elderly former Member of Parliament living in the Chamanpura locality of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. His house was in the Gulbarga Housing Society, where mostly Muslims lived. According to the recorded version of his elderly wife Zakia, on February 28, 2002 a mob of fanatics blew up the security wall of the housing society using gas cylinders. They dragged Ehsan Jafri out of his house, stripped him, chopped off his limbs with swords and burnt him alive. Many other Muslims were also killed and their houses burnt. Chamanpura is barely a kilometre from a police station, and less than two kilometres from the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner’s office. Is it conceivable that the Chief Minister did not know what was going on? Zakia Jafri has since then been running from pillar to post to get justice for her husband who was so brutally murdered. Her criminal case against Mr. Modi was thrown out by the district court (since the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court found no evidence against him and filed a final report), and it is only now (after a gap of over 10 years) that the Supreme Court has set aside the order of the trial court and directed that her protest petition be considered.

I am not going into this matter any further since it is still sub judice .

Mr. Modi has claimed that he has developed Gujarat. It is therefore necessary to consider the meaning of ‘development’. To my mind development can have only one meaning, and that is raising the standard of living of the masses. Giving concessions to big industrial houses, and offering them cheap land and cheap electricity can hardly be called development if it does not raise the standard of living of the masses.

Questionable progress

Today, 48 per cent of Gujarati children are malnourished, which is a higher rate of malnourishment than the national average. In Gujarat, there is a high infant mortality rate, high women’s maternity death rate, and 57 per cent poverty rate in tribal areas, and among Scheduled Castes/Backward Castes. As stated by Ramachandra Guha in his recent article in The Hindu (“The man who would rule India”, February 8) environmental degradation is rising, educational standards are falling, and malnutrition among children is abnormally high. More than a third of adult men in Gujarat have a body mass index of less than 18.5 — the seventh worst in the country. A UNDP report in 2010 has placed Gujarat after eight other Indian States in multiple dimensions of development: health, education, income levels, etc.

Business leaders no doubt claim that Mr. Modi has created a business friendly environment in Gujarat, but are businessmen the only people in India?

I appeal to the people of India to consider all this if they are really concerned about the nation’s future. Otherwise they may make the same mistake which the Germans made in 1933.

(Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is Chairman of the Press Council of India)

People clamouring for Narendra Modi should realise the only policy which can take India on the path of progress is equal respect and treatment for all communities


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