Modi launches tirade against CEC

AHMEDABAD AUG. 22. Even as the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has launched a scathing attack against the Chief Election Commissioner, J. M. Lyngdoh, for refusing to comply with his demand for early elections to the State Assembly, the recovery of two skeletons from an underground gutter in Ahmedabad has raised fresh questions about the communal riots.

The recovery of the two skeletons from a gutter in Rakhial, one of the worst-hit labour-dominated localities in eastern Ahmedabad, has forced the police to draw a fresh list of the persons claimed missing since the riots and to renew an intensive search to trace them. The government had earlier been vehemently denying claims of any more person missing.

The skeletons were found by conservancy workers of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) earlier this week, during a routine cleaning of the gutters. The cleaning operations are normally carried out before the monsoon but this year it was delayed both due to the riots and also because of lack of rains.

Two pairs of torn trousers and a piece of cloth, purported to be part of a shirt, recovered near the skeletons helped in their identification. The skeletons were identified by the parents of two teen-aged youths, Shahnawaj Mohammad Iqbal and Mohammad Shabir Ahmad, both residents of Rangwala Chipa ni Chali in Rakhial. The parents said they had left home on the morning of February 28, the first day of the post-Godhra riots, to call on some friends in a hospital and never returned.

The parents had long back lodged complaints with the police about their wards missing. The Muslim leaders claim that at least 500 people were still "missing''. Some of them might have gone to stay with their friends and relatives in other States and a few youths are reported to have crossed the border to join militant outfits in Pakistan, but the probability of a large number of them having been killed and their bodies dumped somewhere could not be ruled out.

The Congress-controlled AMC has agreed to launch gutter-cleaning operations in a big way in other riot-affected parts of the city for possible skeletons. The State Government, all these months, maintained that all the citizens had been accounted for and there was none "missing.''

The list of the "missing'' persons was among the reasons cited by the Muslim organisations and other non-government bodies, during the visit of the full team of the Election Commission earlier this month, to oppose the ruling BJP's demand for early elections. The Congress also was in favour of a thorough revision of the electoral rolls in the post-riot period.

This, however, did not matter to Mr. Modi and his Cabinet colleagues, who claimed that the CEC was "biased'' against Gujarat in denying early elections, while agreeing to hold elections in many other States where the law and order situation was more alarming.

Mr. Modi, while addressing rallies in small towns and villages, is referring the CEC by his full name — James Michael Lyngdoh — apparently to drive home the point that he is a Christian and therefore "all his sympathies lie with the minorities against the interests of Hindus". He even suggested that the CEC might have been influenced by the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, because she was also a Christian.

Mr. Modi also attacked Mr. Lyngdoh for his decision against early elections on the ground that the situation was not being "conducive'' and said by the standards set by the CEC, even ordinary criminals would be possible to stop elections in any State.

``What all one needs would be to give contract to some bootleggers and criminals to kill a few people, set fire to some houses and burn a few shops and Mr. Lyngdoh will stop elections,'' Mr. Modi told a rally at Bodeli in Vadodara district. "It will be a simple formula for anyone who wants to defer the polls in a State,'' he added.

Wondering what standard the CEC had adopted in the State to defer polls, the Chief Minister also said: "Anyone who sees such a huge gathering here can not say that the situation is not conducive to holding elections in the State.''

His vitriol against the CEC and insinuations against Ms. Gandhi were condemned by the former State Congress president, Amarsinh Chaudhary — a former Chief Minister — who said that such remarks against a constitutional authority and the leader of a major political party were not befitting of a Chief Minister.

Mr. Chaudhary said that it was unfortunate that Mr. Modi tried to drag in even the Congress president though she had nothing to do with the CEC's decision. He said Mr. Modi would not have made such remarks against Mr. Lyngdoh if he had seen his own Home Ministry's reports about the communal riots in which the State administration had admitted to its widespread impact. Mr. Chaudhary also regretted Mr. Modi's comparison of a constitutional authority like the CEC with "bootleggers" and "ordinary criminals" to belittle the Commission's considered conclusion to defer the polls in the State.

Madhusudan Mistry, Congress MP and close confidant of the State unit president, Shankarsinh Waghela, also condemned Mr. Modi's remarks and said the BJP was trying to denigrate the office of the CEC just because he refused to the toe the ruling party line.

Another MP and general secretary of the Indian Union of Muslim League, E. I. Ahmed, who was on a visit to the State, regretted the BJP's attacks against Mr. Lyngdoh and said the ruling party was treating "India as part of Gujarat rather than Gujarat being a part of India.''

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