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Protectors of democracy are alive
By Aziz Burney

As I was busy with my office work on the night of 28 February, telephone rang at 10.30. One Saeed Ahmad of Shaheen Bagh, Abul Fazl Enclave, New Delhi, was on the line, who wanted to talk to me. The moment I said ‘Yes, I am Aziz Burney speaking, he said in a very nervous voice ‘My daughters Parveen Bano and Nasreen Bano live in Rajpur Tol Naka, Ahmadabad and their lives are in danger. They had telephoned a short while ago and whatever they told me about the conditions prevailing over there makes my heart sinking. I request through your newspaper for help. Please do something, for God’s sake’. I wanted to know the telephone number and complete address of his daughters. He gave me their complete address and their neighbour, Mr Nasser’s phone number because they had no telephone of their own. Consoling him, I asked him not to worry and told him that I am trying to do something.

Thereafter, I rang up the Ahmadabad number given by him and talked to Nasser Saheb and Saeed Saheb’s daughters also. All of them were very much worried and afraid. When I wanted to know the conditions prevailing in the neighbourhood areas, he said that they were all confined to their houses. They were hearing only the gun shots and cries of people, and seeing the flames. They were not able to go out of their houses. Then I requested him to give me telephone numbers of a few other places so that conditions in other areas of the city could be found out. He gave me the phone numbers of Dr Jameel and some other persons. After talking to all of them, I guessed the whole of Ahmadabad was gripped with the frenzy of fire and blood.

After talking to Dr Ishaq Sheikh at Al-Ameen Hospital, I came to know that even at that time some dead bodies and some injured persons were lying there and that most of them had been sent to civil hospital.

After knowing the situation in detail, I talked to the Union minister Syed Shahnawaz Husain and requested him to talk to Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi. I also requested him to personally go to Ahmadabad and try to control the situation. Thereafter, I apprised Samajwadi Party’s general secretary, Thakur Amar Singh of the detailed position and requested him also to take some practical steps to save the lives of innocent people.

I talked to Shahi Imam, Sayed Ahmad Bokhari also and insisted upon him to go to Ahmadabad to review the situation there and help the aggrieved people. He informed me that he will be meeting the Prime Minister next morning and talk to him about going to Ahmadabad.

I too had decided to go to Ahmadabad and while I was trying to find out flight details and booking of tickets etc, Amar Singh rang me up on my mobile phone to inform that he has arranged a small plane and that he is going to Ahmadabad at six in the evening accompanied by Raj Babbar, Comrade Sita Ram Yechuri and Shabana Azmi and that I could also accompany them if I so desired. All of us were sitting in the VIP lounge at Delhi airport at 5.30 in the evening. As soon as Comrade Sita Ram Yechuri arrived, we set out for the plane. Our colleague, Govind Dikshit, The Hindu editor was also with us.

We landed at Ahmadabad airport around 9 pm. Besides personal colleagues of Amar Singhji, there was no arrangement by Gujarat government to receive so many important personalities, nor any proper arrangement for our security when the conditions in the city were extremely strained and risky. In any case, all of us were driven to Ahmadabad state guest house in the vehicles brought by Amar Singhji’s party colleagues. At the guest house Amar Singhji, Raj Babbar, Sita Ram Yechuri and Shabana Azmi talked on telephone to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi’s reply to every one was the same, that ‘people recognize your faces and know your views. This is mob mentality and anything can happen. We cannot guarantee your security. We could not protect even the defence minister George Fernandes against stone-pelting. How we can protect you’. When Amar Singhji drew his attention to the reign of terror and bloodshed going on in Ahmadabad, he referred to the Godhra train incident and said that all this was in reaction to that.

In spite of the long conversation with Narendra Modi, Amar Singh and other members of the delegation were not satisfied with the chief minister’s conversation and wanted to see the conditions prevailing in the city. Hence all of us set out for the city. By that time a police vehicle with some policemen had arrived at the guest house and Virendra Rawal, Head of the Crime Prevention Branch, Ahmadabad city, who was with us from Ahmadabad airport itself, was waiting for us outside the guest house. Besides, the camera teams of TV channel ‘Aaj Tak’ and ANI were also with us. Passing through some areas of the city where we saw burnt houses, shops, vehicles etc on all sides, we reached Police Commissioner’s office. Even after waiting for about an hour and a half, neither the Police Commissioner himself came to meet this delegation nor any one of his representatives contacted us nor he talked to us on phone or on wireless.

When no hope was left for a meeting with the Police Commissioner, Amar Singh and Shabana Azmi wrote letters at 2 am to the chief minister Narendra Modi and Police Commissioner, PC Pande and handed them over to Virendra Rawal of Crime Prevention Branch. Side by side, they were also faxed to the chief minister. Amar Singhji’s letter was as follows: 2 March, 2002 (2 a.m.)
Priya Narendraji,
I came here today along with Shabana Azmi, Shri Sita Ram Yechuri and Shri Raj Babbar. Our hearts were filled with sorrow and grief. It was not a government rule but a jungle law in independent India. The scene everywhere is brutish, devilish and beastly. The whole atmosphere is shameful. The government has lost confidence. Being very heart-broken and disappointed we are going back to Delhi. Our hearts are burdened with the indifference and inaction of the administration, negligence and inaction of police and helplessness of the people. Though we are called leaders, your government and administration have made us dumb and helpless. We have given sensitive and heart-rending information to your Police chief. If you have any grain of self confidence and feeling of justice, please save the lives of these innocent and suffering people. Thanks

We, the disappointed, helpless and heart-broken Amar Singh (MP), Raj Babbar (MP), Sita Ram Yechuri, Shabana Azmi (MP).
Shabana Azmi’s letter to the Police Commissioner, PC Pande was as follows:The Police Commissioner Mr PC Pande March 2, (12.20 AM) Ahmadabad 

Dear Pande Saheb,
We are waiting for you in your office but we are unable to contact you in any way. Places which are in need of immediate security arrangements are:
1. Watwajwapura 2. Alice Bridge, Jaffari Towers, 3. Cocharb Palti Gaon 4. Paldi Sorya Kamal Society 5. Bapu Nagar 6. Sundaram Nagar 7. Ansar Nagar 8. Hardas Nagar 9. Shah Alam Rauza 10. Noorani Masjid 11. Tasleema Society, Watwa 12. Gulmarg Society 13. Near Doodhiawar Masjid 14. Sankalat Nagar Jawapura, Sanjay Society.
We once again invite your attention to the fact that ever since we came here (three hours ago), we are continuously getting phone calls asking for help. These people are surrounded by enraged mobs and are very much afraid. They fear that they will be killed tonight or in the coming days.
We may be permitted to visit the affected areas to help the suffering people.
1. Shabana Azmi (MP) 2. Amar Singh (MP) 3. Raj Babbar (MP) 4 Sita Ram Yechuri
Being highly disappointed, we handed over these letters to the Crime Prevention Branch officer and came back to our place of temporary accommodation. It was 3 o’clock at night but none of us was either feeling hungry or sleepy. We wanted to go to some sensitive areas at that time but the officer in charge of the security police, declaring our intention as highly inappropriate, said that we could go out early in the morning if we so desired.
Another two or three hours passed. We set out for Ahmadabad civil hospital at 6 in the morning and met the injured people admitted there and their relatives who were there to look after them. Those injured in the Godhra train incident were also admitted there. According to a child of 12-13 years, Gyan Prakash, who was also a victim of communal riots, all this had happened because of provocative slogans of Karsevaks, their hooliganism and misbehaviour and for not paying money to the hawkers at the railway stations after eating, drinking or grabbing their goods which had taken a very serious turn. Here I would like to mention one thing about this child. When he was asked as to who had attacked the train, he said that it was the Muslims. Then he was asked as to who amongs us was a Muslim. After looking at us carefully he said that none of us was a Muslim whereas two of us, Shabana Azmi and myself were Muslims.

While giving a detailed description of all these events I do not want to write any thing of my own. I may probably write sometime in future about what I saw, heard or felt. Whatever I am writing here are the feelings and views of peaceful, democratic and justice-loving people of this country. I am simply using my pen for writing all these things, keeping in mind the point instead of writing about the views and impressions of Muslims. I should write about the views and impressions of sentimental, patriotic and humanist non-Muslims in their own words.

Shabana Azmi and Raj Babbar talked to the child who was a victim of Godhra train incident. I only heard their conversation and wrote it down here. The reports presented from Ahmadabad for Rashtriya Sahara were my own feelings which were published in Rashtriya Sahara (Urdu) of 1st March. What I am going to write now are the views of chief of the ANI bureau, Sushil Parekh, correspondent of TV channel ‘Aaj Tak’, Sumit Avasthi, Times of India’s Radha Sharma, Sanjay Pandey, Manoj Joshi and Siddhrath Varadarajan.

The tale of one-sided cruelty and mayhem narrated by Sushil Parekh and Sumit Avasthi was tragic and barbarous enough to raise one’s hairs. Its severity and intensity can be understood by the fact that Sushil Parekh, in order to carry out his responsibilities as a reporter, had to get his beard shaved. The rioters set his car and camera on fire. Their swords barely missed him. In order to save his life he had to take off his pants to prove what community he belongs to. It has been said in reports of Times of India’s Radha Sharma, Sanjay Pandey, Manoj Joshi and Siddharth Vardarajan that if police would have tried to prevent these inhuman acts, so much loss of life and property would certainly not have taken place. It is no doubt true that the attack on Sabarmati Express on 27 February was not only provocative but inhuman also. But it is surprising that a crowd of several thousands a conspiracy of organized and pre-planned attack but the LIU (Local Intelligence Unit) personnel remained blissfully ignorant about it. Similarly, if the local police, administration and intelligence would not have acted in an irresponsible manner, either deliberately or inadvertently, the inhuman attack on Sabarmati Express would certainly not have taken place. And obviously, if this pre-planned attack was foiled, the workers and activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, RSS, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagran Manch would not have got any excuse for such massacre and destruction. Consequently the destruction, massacre and loot etc would not have taken place in Gujarat and different cities, towns and villages of India.

In spite of VHP’s declaration to organize ‘bandh’ in Ahmadabad, Rajkot, Godhra and other cities of Gujarat, no concrete and effective steps were taken to prevent and deal with the possible riots, with result that hundreds of people were killed and properties: industrial units, shops, houses, factories, cars, trucks etc worth billions of rupees were set on fire. On 28 February itself reports started coming that Muslims are being targeted throughout Gujarat by the crowds of fanatics. But in spite of all these things neither the Prime Minster Vajpayee nor the Home Minister Advani considered it necessary to pressurize the senior colleagues of their party and chief minister Narendra Modi to firmly handle and stop the anti-minority riots.

All these reports on the communal riots of Gujarat are from the fourth pillar of democracy i.e. media and are a clear proof of their sincerity, honesty, impartiality and justiciability. And all these are non-Muslims. All Indians are proud of them and others like them for whom their duty and humanism is above every thing else. Majority of the people of the national level delegation going to Gujarat from Delhi in the wake of communal riots there were non-Muslims. Leader of this delegation was also a non-Muslim, Amar Singh, who not only went and reviewed the situation there, motivated by the feelings of patriotism, humanism and nationalism but also took practical steps to stop the widespread carnage and bloodshed. But I am sorry to state that till the time of writing this, no Muslim organization or those who consider Muslims as their vote bank and who express all sympathies with them could not muster the courage of going to Gujarat, whether they be responsible leaders of Congress or Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party.

By now All India Milli Council and Muslim Majlise Mushawarat leaders would have very well understood as to how far their step was right in asking Muslims in Uttar Pradesh to cast their votes in favour of candidates of these parties. Is the silence of Mayawati, even after such a horrible event, not indicative of her desire to maintain her relations with BJP in order to achieve her cherished dream? She neither went there nor spoke any thing about those riots. She did not even utter a single word in the All Party meeting about the happenings in Gujarat, because she wants to maintain her relationship with BJP lest she may lose the chance of forming her government in UP, no matter even if Muslims are burnt alive and ‘holi’ should be played with their blood not only in Gujarat but throughout India. Will those who shout for, and swear by, democracy still close their eyes and not expose such people? Will the parties in the NDA which have so far been supporting the government at the Centre in spite of all this, still continue to support this government? If so, we should suppose that these so-called secular people and parties are in no way less dangerous than the communalists and also in no way less responsible than these communalists for events like Gujarat.

Aziz Burney is editor of the Urdu edition of the Rashtriya Sahara. He wrote this report on his return from Ahmadabad (Translated from Urdu)

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