End the butchery, sack Modi

Published : Mar 16, 2002 00:00 IST

The pogrom in Gujarat spells this nation's descent into unalloyed barbarism. It can only end if Modi is sent packing and Vajpayee shaken out of his smug complicity by the Opposition.

NARENDRA Milosevic Modi. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak has emerged as the deadliest purveyor of communal poison in "Hindutva's laboratory", Gujarat. As the official death toll exceeds 650, the Godhra incident, terrible as it was, pales into the shadow. Mortal fear, insecurity and hatred stalk Gujarat as the wave of violence shifts to villages from the big cities.

What has been in progress in Gujarat since February 28 is not a communal altercation or riot, or as much of the media calls it with an air of neutrality, "violence". It is a veritable pogrom, a systematic, targeted massacre of a religious minority, with the full complicity, consent and direct involvement of the state, and a good chunk of Gujarat's power elite. The lacerations and deep wounds inflicted by the pogrom are unlikely to heal soon. The images of people, real flesh-and-blood human beings, being burnt alive, speared or quartered and dismembered into small bits, will haunt us for a long, long time to come.

Only a thorough, impartial and credible inquiry can establish just what led to the gory Godhra incident in which 58 people were charred to death by a mob. This must investigate who was responsible for setting fire to the coaches of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, and determine the cause of failure of the intelligence agencies.

No such inquiry can ignore the relevant background: increasing harassment of Indian Muslims since September 11 and especially since December 13, and their maligning as the principal perpetrators or sympathisers of terrorism; growing communalisation of Gujarat's society; the desperate tactics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its associates in launching the incendiary temple-building campaign in Ayodhya just as the party faced an ignominious electoral defeat in four States; the mobilisation of thousands of kar sevaks from Gujarat; and their movement by rail, and the many instances of verbal abuse and manhandling of Muslims by them, reported in Faizabad's Janmorcha newspaper.

None of these constitutes a valid "provocation" for horrible and gratuitous acts such as burning people alive. But they highlight the intelligence failure and warrant a serious investigation into the calculations behind the Godhra incident, and its actual organisation and execution on February 27.

However, unlike the unknowns in Godhra, there is little about its far bloodier aftermath that is in doubt, in particular the elaborate planning and preparations that had taken place well in advance of February 27, including the stockpiling of firearms, swords and trishuls. Already, there is overwhelming evidence of the involvement of agencies of the state in the calibrated escalation of violence, which began barely 24 hours after the Godhra incident. Consider the following information gathered through extended conversations with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and eyewitnesses in Gujarat, and through the media:

* During the crucial interval between Godhra and the first targeted attacks on Muslims, the police failed, despite mounting reports of the coming "Hindu backlash", to go through the routine drill they have been trained to carry out for over 100 years, including special patrolling, rounding up "bad characters" and communal goondas, setting up meetings of mohalla and residential colony representatives, and so on.

* Early on, Narendra Modi gave out unambiguous signals that he did not want preventive action. He discouraged tough police measures even after the Hindutva-spouting hordes launched their campaign of arson and murder.

* In countless instances, the police stood and watched as Hindutva hooligans went about looting, burning and killing. Many officers deliberately delayed despatching constables or summoning the fire brigade when Muslim localities came under attack - as a means of letting the "natural reaction" (read, extreme anti-Muslim hatred) work itself out. Soon, sections of the police themselves were accused of participating in these crimes.

* After the first major day of violence, in which 150 people were murdered in gory ways, Modi expressed "full satisfaction" with the working of the police and the law-and-order machinery. This was a loud and clear message that the very apex of the state would remain complicit in the pogrom.

* Mobs of the Hindutva hooligans specifically and accurately targeted Muslim homes, buildings and shops - on the basis of the electoral rolls provided by the municipal or State election authorities.

* By the time George Fernandes visited Ahmedabad - and his convoy was attacked - the anti-minorities trend of the violence was clear. It was also clear that the Army would not be deployed in the proper sense of the term. It belatedly sent about 500 men to stage flag marches in different localities. The delay would lead to hundreds of avoidable deaths. The State government, and its district officials, failed to request the Army in time to assist the civil authority in the maintenance of law and order.

* The Ahmedabad Police Commissioner (P.C. Pandey) made unacceptable and lame excuses for the partisan attitude of the police, saying that what happens in the larger society was "bound to affect it". Senior officers did not dare discharge their duty in conformity with the Constitution and protect the life and property of all citizens in an impartial manner.

* Muslim High Court Judges and senior police officers had to go into hiding because the state failed to provide them even minimal protection against the marauding mobs.

* The bestiality of the methods of killing has left lakhs of people utterly traumatised.

* The police themselves burned down the office of an NGO engaged in promoting communal harmony and reconciliation.

* The moneyed elite of Ahmedabad indulged in looting posh shops. Some of them financed the salaries of the trishul-wielding youth who joined the unprecedentedly large, 5,000 to 15,000-strong mobs organised by the extremist Hindutva organisations.

* At the end of the first week of the pogrom, there were reports of mistreatment of the 65,000 people who fled their homes for the safety of ill-equipped refugee camps. Vehicles carrying essential supplies to them were attacked.

* Narendra Modi shamelessly kept repeating his claim that the pogrom was only a "natural reaction" to Godhra, and further asserted that his actions had the full approval of the Prime Minister, to whom "I speak four times a day."

THE Central government, on its part, endorsed Modi's actions and decisions and was complicit in one of the worst episodes of organised, unspontaneous communal violence in our history. Home Minister L.K. Advani did not bother to visit Gujarat, from where he was repeatedly elected an MP, for the first 100 hours; he finally made a short, tokenist, visit. Vajpayee broadcast a pitiful and parsimonious address to the nation, in which he did not even promise to protect the life and property of the Muslims of Gujarat, or to punish those guilty of unspeakable brutality and inhuman crimes.

This state-sponsored communal violence systematically targeted at a religious minority is what gives the butchery in Gujarat a special, sordid, terrifying, character. What has been accomplished qualitatively by the Hindu Right exceeds the bestiality behind the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and, in some ways, the Bombay riots of 1992-93. In neither of these episodes was the involvement of the State government so direct, proactive and comprehensive. Nor was the Central government's conduct nearly as reprehensible.

For Gujarat's religious minorities, Modi's rule is no different from what Slobodan Milosevic's reign was for Serbia's ethnic minorities. Modi's government must be sacked. Its rule is incompatible with fundamental rights - including rights to life and liberty - guaranteed by the Constitution. This is not a party-political demand, but a prerequisite of democracy. Gujarat's civil society organisations see no other way out of the present crisis. Nothing can justify the continuation of a government which so abjectly - and brazenly - violates the right to life of millions of its citizens.

Advani too has lost the moral authority to remain India's Home Minister thanks to his complicity with Modi and his failure to uphold the Constitution of India. He must go.

Gujarat's is precisely the kind of emergency or exceptionally stressful, extreme situation for which Articles 355 and 356 were envisaged by the framers of our Constitution. These empower the Centre to dismiss a State government or deploy troops to enforce its compliance with Central orders. Article 355 specifically says it is the "the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance" and to ensure that its governance "is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution."

It will not do to plead, as P.V. Narasimha Rao did in 1992-93, or as many BJP apologists do now, that the Centre can intervene in a State only after imposing President's Rule. As the legendary jurist H.M. Seervai argued in two brilliant articles in The Economic Times (April 9 and 10, 1993), episodes like the Babri demolition or the Gujarat pogrom eminently constitute grave "internal disturbance". Therefore, when the Centre is "apprised of a situation in which internal disturbance is threatened, it must take all necessary steps, including the use of armed forces, to prevent internal disturbance." This duty, says Seervai, is imposed on the Union alone and not on the State government.

Seervai elaborates on Article 355, which, according to Dr. Ambedkar (quoted in the Constituent Assembly debates), is modelled on Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. In the U.S., this was used in the 1950s and 1960s to enforce the Supreme Court's order to de-segregate white and black schools. Thus, in 1957, President Eisenhower despatched several companies of the U.S. Army to Little Rock, Arkansas, where "a large and ugly-tempered mob" had gathered to prevent black students from entering a formerly whites-only high school.

Similarly, in 1962, John F. Kennedy sent thousands of U.S. troops to Mississippi to break racist resistance to the admission of a black student, James Meredith, to a university, where "massive riots, approaching the proportions of outright insurrection", had broken out. The mere presence of the troops led to the collapse of the resistance.

The case for applying Article 355 to Gujarat, deploying Central forces to take over law-and-order functions, and dismissing Modi is pressing in today's circumstances. The ground for his dismissal must not be obfuscated by inappropriate appeals to federalist principles and the valid but inapplicable argument that Article 356 has been frequently abused to settle scores with Opposition parties ruling in the States. There is a manifest and visible breakdown of the constitutional machinery in Gujarat, which poses a dire threat to the very survival of its citizens.

The Vajpayee government is so crassly insensitive and callous that it will not voluntarily act to defend the Constitution or the principle of democratic decency. It can only be forced to do so by the secular Opposition. The Opposition parties must do everything in their power to raise public awareness - through mass-level campaigns, public meetings, and rallies in different cities. Only such a mass campaign launched jointly with civil society groups and people's movements will generate the pressure necessary to force the Centre to act.

Allowing the subversion and suborning of our democracy by communal forces means descending into downright majoritarianism, and rationalising murder and mayhem - ultimately barbarism itself. This is unacceptable.

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