'The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 will haunt Modi till his last days'

Editor's Note: Journalist Kingshuk Nag had an agenda while writing book on BJP leader Narendra Modi. He wanted to present a balanced view of Modi. After all, how often does the son of a tea vendor rise to the stature of a prime ministerial candidate? "You can love him, or hate him, depending upon your predilection, but there is no way that you can ignore Narendra Modi. He is one of few, truly enigmatic personalities gracing the contemporary indian political scene,” writes Nag in the introduction to The NaMo Story: A Political Life, published by Roli Books.

Nag’s book offers the reader intriguing tit-bits – did you know Modi had been married as a child but rejected the marriage when he grew up? – about the politician’s life and remarkable career. It neither lionises nor demonises Modi, instead, the book presents an ambitious politician who is hardworking, intelligent and determined. The benefits of Modi as a leader can be seen in the success of his ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ campaign and Nag writes in detail about how Modi won the confidence of industrialists and investors.

Cover of the book

Cover of the book, The Namo Story by Kingshuk Nag

It is because Nag’s perspective is balanced that the book’s account of the 2002 Gujarat riots is worth recounting. It’s an unbiased report from someone who was in Gujarat and who is appreciative of the good that Modi has done for the state.

An excerpt from Kingshuk Nag's book, The NaMo Story: A Political Life, on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's political career.

Having witnessed the riots closely, I can say with authority that any government that showed such indifference in controlling the carnage elsewhere in the country would have been dismissed immediately and the state put under President’s rule. But Modi’s godfather, LK Advani, was the home minister. While he steadfastly protected Modi, other Modi well-wishers, like Arun Jaitely, argued in Delhi that the liberal press in Gujarat was ‘hyping’ the situation and misreporting. The then BJP president, Jana Krishnamurthy and RSS leader, Kushabhau Thakre also lobbied for Modi within the organization. Even as international condemnation mounted thick and fast, President KR Narayanan wrote to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, expressing his concern. On 4 April, disturbed by the reports, Vajpayee arrived in Gujarat. He advised Modi to follow ‘rajdharma’ only to receive an angry riposte from the chief minister on live television that he was, indeed, doing so. Organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the horrors of post-Godhra violence. Appropriately, the HRW report was titled: ‘We have no orders to save you’. The allusion was to the police response to Muslims seeking help. A team of the Editors Guild of India too compiled a report on the ‘horrors’ of the riot and noted the ‘supine, if not complicit behaviour of the state.’

During the long rioting, I had occasion to meet Modi a couple of times. In private, Modi pleaded helplessness and said that he was trying to do his best.‘Apko pata nahin Musalmanon ke liye merey dil mein kitna dard hai,’ he told me, thumping his chest. [‘You don’t realize how much I sympathise with the Muslims.’] But these private statements did not tally with his public responses. I also remember how angry he was with police officer Rahul Sharma who had refused to raid a madarsa,‘for trying to seek cheap publicity and act like a hero.’ Modi was never seen coming out in public to campaign for peace. His movements suggested the contrary. Though he had visited Godhra and consoled victims of the carnage, he failed to visit the sites of other massacres like Naroda Patiya and Gulberg society immediately. Perhaps he was too scared to face the relatives of the victims.

In spite of this support in his home state, an agitated Vajpayee, himself under attack for persisting with Modi, ultimately decided to get rid of the chief minister. On 11 April, I received a phone call from the close aide of the then governor, Sundar Singh Bhandari to tell me that Arun Jaitely, the law minister at the time, was flying in from Delhi to secure Modi’s resignation and that it would be announced at the national executive meeting of the BJP slated in Goa the next day.

But Modi pulled off a coup. At the Goa meeting, second-rung leaders of the BJP came out in strong support of Modi. Vajpayee was left red-faced and, to salvage the situation, turned strident himself.

Modi was upset that the Lyngdoh-led election Commission refused to hold elections before November, on the grounds that conditions had not returned to normal and that it was not possible to revise the electoral rolls. The election Commission made a reference to the Supreme Court and the latter agreed. Meanwhile, Modi publicly mocked the Election Commissioner, referring to his Christian origin and therewith his supposed closeness to another Christian, Sonia Gandhi, as the reason for ‘biased’ action. He said that all this was ‘sochi samjhi saazish’ [‘a planned conspiracy’] that sought to target the ‘gaurav’ [‘valour’] of Gujarat. Modi also alleged that Lyngdoh was more interested in getting elections organized in Jammu & Kashmir than in Gujarat. In his public utterances, Modi would refer to Lyngdoh by his full name James Michael Lyngdoh, so that the people could immediately identify him as a Christian. Though the elections were being delayed, Modi was in a hurry to cash in on the sentiments that had come to the fore in the last few months. Therefore, with the support of the BJP at national level, he launched a multi-phase Gujarat Gaurav Yatra that would continue to roll right up to the elections. The yatra began on 6 September from a place in central Gujarat and, in phases, went to tribal areas of north and central Gujarat and other places: mostly those affected by the riots. Modi said that the yatra was meant to launch an agenda different from Godhra and post-Godhra. But his utterances left no one in doubt about what his game plan was. Reportedly, he started the yatra saying that the ‘Congress cannot return to power wearing Italian spectacles’ and charged that Sonia Gandhi was taking the advice of ‘Rome’s Pope’. Modi also berated Sonia for having said that Gujarat was becoming ‘Godse’s Gujarat’.

‘The Congress, pseudo secularists and Musharraf are all speaking the same language,’ he railed. ‘None of them utter a word on Godhra but abuse Gujarat only for what happened afterwards.’

During the yatra, Modi made other controversial statements too. One such was ‘paanch ke pacchis’, an allusion to the high population growth amongst Muslims.

It soon seemed as though the BJP’s top leaders themselves were becoming hostage to Modi’s politics. Advani, who was elevated from home minister to deputy prime minister, declared that Modi was the best chief minister that Gujarat had ever had.

The election that followed was the most polarized that Gujarat has ever seen. Modi romped home with 127 seats in an assembly of 182, with a vote percentage of 49.85 of all votes polled. The Congress got only 51 seats but secured 39.55 percent of all the popular votes.

A triumphant Modi took the oath at a grand ceremony at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad in the presence of a huge turnout and VIPs, including Prime Minister Vajpayee. It now seemed as though the Gujarat chief minister was the supervisor of even the Prime Minister of India.

But given the huge number of organizations, groups, and individuals arraigned against him, Modi’s troubles were far from over. They were not ready to absolve the strong man of Gujarat of any wrongdoing, just because he had emerged victorious at the elections. Organizations like Centre for Justice and Peace, headed by activist Teesta Setalvad, a Hindu Gujarati woman, were established to fight for justice for the riot victims.

The chinks in the armour of the blatantly biased Gujarat government’s official machinery, in fact, opened the doors for those fighting for justice in the state.

When all the accused in the well-publicized Best Bakery Case were let off in July 2003 because the prosecution put up a poor case and the witnesses (under duress) turned hostile, eyebrows began to be raised in legal circles outside Gujarat.

Though the Best Bakery case was the 37th riot case in which the accused had been acquitted, none of the others were big enough to capture public imagination.

Referring to the ‘administrators of Gujarat’ (in a veiled reference to Modi and his men), the supreme Court compared them to ‘modern-day Nero’, who were looking elsewhere when innocent children and helpless women were being assaulted, and probably deliberating on how the perpetrators could best be protected. The SC quashed the trial in the Best Bakery Case and directed a fresh re-trial in Maharashtra.

In March 2008, after long legal procedures, the Supreme Court set up a Special Investigations Team (sit), headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan. In May 2009, the apex court ordered trials under the supervision of sit in six major riot cases. The Supreme Court’s order was in the interests of the criminal justice system and to address lacunae in the investigations and trials of these cases. The Godhra, Naroda Patiya and Gulberg society cases were among the cases included in this batch. As noted before, the Godhra case came to fruition and so did the Naroda Patiya case. In August 2012 a total of 32 accused were convicted, including Modi’s former minister, Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi. In April 2012, a total of 23 persons were convicted in the Ode case and in July 2012, another 22 persons were convicted in the Dipda Darwaza case.

In september 2011 for the Gulberg society case, Modi himself was called in for interrogation by the SIT. There were allegations that the slain MP, Ehsan Jafri, had even called up Modi for help. Modi denied both knowing Jafri and receiving a call from him. He also said that he had not referred to a ‘Hindu reaction’ at official meetings. As for the shifting of bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad, Modi effectively put the blame on the district collector of Godhra, Jayanti Ravi, saying that she was not keen to keep the bodies in Godhra.

When confronted with his action-reaction statement (Godhra leading to post-Godhra), he said that it was a general statement, pointing that Gujarat had a long history of communal disturbances going back to 1714. He also made light of his paanch ke pacchhis statement, saying that it referred to the general problems of family planning and not to a specific community. At the end of investigations, the SIT let Modi off.

But the amicus curae in the case, Raju Ramachandran, stirred up a hornet’s nest by stating that there was indeed some evidence under which Modi could be hauled up.

It can be safely predicted that the last of this matter has not been heard. The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 are likely to haunt Narendra Modi till his last days.

From The NaMo Story: A Political Life, by Kingshuk Nag (Roli Books, Rs. 295). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Updated Date: Apr 17, 2013 17:50 PM

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