Redefining a riot: Panagariya, Bhagwati write to The Economist

How many lies does it take to defend Modi?

Economists bring the pretence of expertise to politics. As Manmohan Singh, the latest in a long line, has once again demonstrated, this pretence needs political patronage to survive. Thus it should come as no surprise that even before we have had a change of regime in Delhi, other practitioners of this impractical art are padding up their CV in ways that would look good to the new administration.

 Redefining a riot: Panagariya, Bhagwati write to The Economist


In a review I have stated that Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya’s recent book India’s Tryst with Destiny is a pitch for the Modi growth model, and does so by wishing away contrary evidence. Now the esteemed gentlemen have entered an area where even notionally their expertise amounts to nothing and their prejudice for everything, an attempt to diminish the seriousness of what transpired in Gujarat in 2002.

In a letter to The Economist, responding to an article which despite its note of admiration did not wholeheartedly endorse Modi, the two wrote, "You said that Mr Modi refuses to atone for a “pogrom” against Muslims in Gujarat, where he is chief minister. But what you call a pogrom was in fact a “communal riot” in 2002 in which a quarter of the people killed were Hindus—170 of them from bullets fired by the police.’’

These two sentences from the letter take us to the heart of the matter – of how these eminent economists from Columbia University are not just playing with numbers to diminish the seriousness of what transpired in Gujarat, they are also deliberately distorting the facts in convenient fashion to hide the actual criminality of the Modi administration.

First the actual numbers, according to a reply in Parliament 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the post-Godhra riots. This includes those killed in police firing, a number that according to the state government stands at 170. On the face of it these numbers seem to match what Bhagwati and Co have stated in their letter where they have sought to highlight the fact that Hindus were also killed in the rioting and the police did act to prevent the violence. Except that they omitted one critical fact – of the 170 killed in police firing 93 were Muslims and 77 Hindus. Unless they are guilty of bad grammar, they seem to imply that 170 Hindus were killed in police firing. But this amounts to a deliberate and serious distortion of the truth.

Take away those killed in the police firing, and the numbers killed in the actual violence stands at 697 Muslims and 177 Hindus. This means that 80 per cent of those killed were Muslims. In a state where the Muslim population amounts to just 9 per cent of the total population, the numbers portray a sickening story of one-sided killings.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica a pogrom is a "a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority’’. The break up of those killed in police firing bears testimony to something significant. In a situation where 80 per cent of those killed in the violence were Muslims, how did police firing manage to kill more Muslims than Hindus? Even those who claim the violence was spontaneous concede what eyewitnesses have borne out, that the vast majority of the mobs that murdered and raped were made up of Hindus. The only answer that fits the facts is that the police deliberately chose their targets. And if they did so deliberately, they did so under directions.

Bhagwati and Co seem to believe that the death of some Hindus in the violence is evidence to suggest that this was not a pogrom. But if 80 per cent of those killed in the violence were Muslims and the violence was spread over large parts of the state, with the police either condoning, or worse still participating in the violence, it does amount to an organised massacre. Do Bhagwati and Panagariya shy away from the word because it comes far too close to describing the truth?

The question of who organised the massacre inevitably leads us to an answer that makes it imperative that any Indian with some respect for justice challenges the possibility of Modi becoming Prime Minister. And those, such as Bhagwati and Panagariya, who diminish or wish away the seriousness of the violence remain guilty of suppressing the truth about a serious communal crime.

 (Hartosh Singh Bal is a consulting editor at Firstpost.)

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

Updated Date: Jan 12, 2014 11:26:14 IST