Communal calculations

Published : Mar 30, 2002 00:00 IST

In Gujarat, the BJP is already gauging, through district-level meetings, whether its aggressive communal strategy has paid off, and whether it should go for mid-term elections.

ALTHOUGH Gujarat's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government has been accused of abetting the terror unleashed by the State's saffron cadre, Chief Minister Narendra Modi has stuck to his line. The violence, he said, was "a natural reaction by Hindu society". Modi has been neither responsive to nor remorseful for the continuing violence in the State, which claims a few lives day after day. He keeps asserting that he brought the violence under control within 72 hours.

The Chief Minister's claim that Gujarat is returning to normal has been proved hollow by the continuing attacks on Muslims. When the National Human Rights Commission chairman, Justice (retired) J.S. Verma, visited Gujarat on March 21, he observed that the State had not yet returned to normal and that people still felt insecure. Verma rejected the Gujarat government's preliminary report on the violence and demanded a more comprehensive explanation within four days.

Despite public outrage over the massacres, Modi continues with his Hindutva rhetoric, secure in the belief that the political Opposition in the State is too weak to cause any problems for his government, at least for now. In fact, some observers feel that the recent violence may actually check the downslide in the BJP's fortunes, which was brought about by the party's ineptitude in dealing with matters such as earthquake rehabilitation, drought and the industrial recession.

Reports suggest that the BJP has started holding meetings in the districts to gauge whether its aggressive communal strategy has paid off, and whether it should go for mid-term elections. State elections are to be held next year in the normal course. But the BJP is now hoping that playing the communal card will bring new gains. For example, most of the violence in the rural areas occurred in the tribal-majority districts of Panchmahals, Dahod and Sabarkantha, traditional Congress(I) strongholds. The Sangh Parivar organisations, attempting to make inroads into Congress(I) territory, has been mobilising support in these districts, and many feel that the violence may have been triggered here with the intention of strengthening its hold.

The prospect of mid-term elections provoked a nervous Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president and former Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhary to accuse Modi of attempting to score political points over the bodies of the victims of communal violence.

A hardline pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Modi was sworn in Chief Minister just six months ago. The BJP's top leadership was banking on his organisational skills to gear up the BJP cadre for the elections. Modi's track record as Chief Minister reflects his past. Saffron politics, rather than governance and development, would seem to be his principal concern. Even while he allows Gujarat to burn, Modi keeps harping on the injustice of the Sabarmati Express tragedy, evidently in order to deflect attention from the fascist-style massacre of Muslims. He even tried to score brownie points over the Congress(I) by alleging that one of the main accused in the Sabarmati Express case, Godhra municipal president Mohammed Husain Kalota, had links with the Congress(I).

The delay on the part of Modi's government in bringing in the Army as well as the Gujarat police's evidently partisan behaviour during the massacres prompted the Opposition to demand his removal, as well as that of Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Gandhinagar constituency. However, the voice of the Opposition having been ignored both at the Centre and in the State, both Modi and Advani retain power.

The Gujarat government not only supported the massacres but continues with its anti-minority stand. The 62 Muslims arrested for the burning of the Sabarmati Express have been booked under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO). How-ever, of the more than 800 people arrested for the massacres that followed, mainly against Muslims, no one has been charged under this controversial legal instrument. Even in the Narodia Patia incident in Ahmedabad, where 91 people were burned alive or hacked in a planned attack, no one has been charged under POTO. Incidentally, prominent leaders such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's international general secretary Pravin Togadia and its Ahmedabad chief Jaideep Patel were allegedly spotted at the scene of the crime. One of the victims even filed a case against Jaideep Patel.

Another example of the government's communal attitude is its announcement of Rs.2 lakhs as compensation for the victims of the Sabarmati Express tragedy, while those of the subsequent attacks fetch Rs.1 lakh. The government has not been of help to the over one lakh refugees in relief camps run by voluntary organisations. It started providing grain to the camps a week after the violence began, just in time to avoid embarrassment when a delegation of MPs toured Gujarat.

Even almost a month after the carnage the government has not come up with any rehabilitation plan for the refugees, most of whom are too scared to go back to their homes. In fact, Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Barot wrote to Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphia asking that the three relief camps, which shelter 6,000 people, in his Ahmedabad Dariapur-Kazipur constituency be dismantled because Hindus living near the camps felt unsafe owing to the presence of so many riot victims.

No sensitivity was shown even to students. The government was adamant on going ahead with the Secondary School Certificate examinations as scheduled on March 18, despite the fact that violence continued and many places were still under curfew. A day before the examinations were to begin it relented and re-scheduled them only in Ahmedabad and Vadodara. A few days later, because of the continuing violence, they had to be cancelled in areas such as Bharuch, Mehsana and Sabarkantha.

The government's double standards were manifested also in its attitude towards the media. In his bid to squelch all dissent, Chief Minister Modi called for a ban on the television news and current affairs content provider NDTV, which he claimed had instigated violence. However, he dropped his plans quickly after receiving flak for his proposal. But NDTV was sought to be taught a lesson: its crew was stopped on the road by VHP activists just a few kilometres from Gandhinagar, the State capital. On the other hand, certain Gujarati newspapers remain untouched, although they have been instigating communal hatred and have published rumours as news reports, instilling fear and insecurity in cities like Vadodara and Ahmedabad.

Meanwhile, the VHP planned to stir up more trouble by organising asti yatras, to take the ashes of the Sabarmati Express victims in processions all over the country. Clearly, the Sangh Parivar is set to capitalise on the Sabarmati Express incident. Its interests seem to lie in stoking communal fires and igniting new ones. Even if it has to use the ashes of the dead to ignite them.

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