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Stop this madness in Gujarat

That more Muslims have been killed is quite part of the national and governmental doctrine enunciated so clearly and chillingly by Union Disinvestments Minister Arun Shourie when he said, and one paraphrases from his speeches as printed in the Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, “It is no longer an eye for an eye. It is now both eyes for an eye, and the entire jaw for a tooth.”

Late Friday night, 1st march 2002, it was difficult to make out who was ruling the world’s largest democracy – Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, or the motley crew that goes under the banner of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and is mother to the Bajrang Dal, contemporary India’s most feared religious gendarme.

And to send shivers down the spine of the most ardent devotee of democracy, there was growing evidence that the Army itself was being made into a cats-paw by Vajpayee, his Home Minister Lal Krishan Advani, the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and that vast, but unregistered membership of what is called the Hindutva parivar.

As Gujarat burned in the worst communal violence since the 1992-93 riots of Mumbai and the 1984 massacre-by-burning of 3,400 Sikhs of Delhi, astute political observers noted that political ground was being prepared for a possible early general elections where the BJP, recently ejected out of power in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Goa, could once again ride on the chariot of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, which people had mostly believed to be a dead horse for the last five years. The issue has now been revived, not just in the deadlines and the yagnas of the VHP, but also in the sacrifice of hundreds of mostly innocent lives, in both communities. 

That more Muslims have been killed is quite part of the national and governmental doctrine enunciated so clearly and chillingly by Union Disinvestments Minister Arun Shourie when he said, and one paraphrases from his speeches as printed in the Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, “It is no longer an eye for an eye. It is now both eyes for an eye, and the entire jaw for a tooth.”

But first, the issue of the Army. Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the RSS pracharak sent to Gujarat to revive the party which was in rapid decline in the last two years, and who had won the first ever political election of his life just a week ago, dallied for many precious hours before telling the civil authorities they should ask the Army to move in if the violence went out of control. 

Once the karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive in the Sabarmati express – an incident which should be investigated by a full judicial commission -- it was clear to almost everyone in India that there would be a wave of counter violence by the RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal-Shiv Sena who were itching for a fight for a longtime. The Chief Minister, by blaming the Muslims and the ISI of Pakistan, apparently did not want to see beyond what was politically convenient to his party. It was almost as if he wanted to give a full day to the VHP-Bajrang Dal killers to do their job of retaliation. 

Why did the Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad ignore the pleadings of his senior officers who wanted him to act decisively to pre-empt anti-Muslin violence? The intelligence reports as well as early reports from the local police were categorical that there would be a backlash on a massive scale. And yet senior police officers were told in so many words to “wait and see what happens”.

There is reason to believe that the Police Commissioner had been asked to let events take their own course. Who had given him such indications, or had suggested this wait-and-see policy. Was it the Chief Minister and the central leadership, here exemplified by the Union Home Minister? It will take another judicial commission to eventually trace the origins of this oral directive.

The same sinister conspiracy was visible when it came in to let the Army do its job of staging flag marches, always the first thing to restore the confidence of the victims in the minority community who have such bitter experience of the highly communalized local police. (Readers will recall that Chief Minister Modi’s predecessor had passed an order two years ago permitting government staff to take membership of the RSS).

New Delhi Television’s political reporter Rajdeep Sardesai had spent the entire day telling the nation that the state government had delayed in sending small trucks that the Army needed to move out of its barracks and enter the smaller roads and by-lanes of Ahmedabad and Godhra, the hot spots. By evening, George Fernandes, cornered in a televised interview, had to admit on camera that there was delay in the Army receiving such transport. They waited in their columns seated in their heavy trucks, which are designed to rush them to the frontiers and into battle, but are not designed for police duties.

Till Friday evening, even as the Army made its initial symbolic flag marches, senior Members of Parliament who had been trapped in various parts of Gujarat were phoning up their leaders in Delhi saying mobs were still on the rampage and the Army, and the police were nowhere in sight. Even in the case of the former Congress Member of Parliament who was burnt alive with his family in the heart of Ahmedabad, he had himself phoned up not just the police but his leaders in Delhi, who in turn conveyed his urgency to no less than the Prime Minister himself, but nothing was done. In fact, sundry top leaders of the VHP were still publicly saying, on television that the Army should not be brought in. One senior leader in New Delhi said that the Army could not be recalled from the Pakistan frontier to help restore civil order in Gujarat.

Since 1969, the first time since Gujarat saw large-scale communal violence after Partition, the state police had remained suspect in the eyes of most people. Its constables and senior subordinate cadres are known to be highly communalized, and in recent years, highly politicized. 

The delay in the Army getting on with the job proved fatal for hundreds of Muslims.

Was Narendra Modi acting on his own, or did he have the tacit support of people at the centre, possibly leaders who even now see themselves as just a heartbeat away from the prime ministership?

The straws in the wind indicate that Modi had the full support of these elements at the Centre.

And this is where the basic question comes in – who is in actual command in the country, the BJP and its Prime minister, or the VHP?

Vajpayee in his words and actions has shown that he has abdicated all responsibility and decision-making on the crucial issue of Ayodhya and is letting the VHP-RSS do both the talking and the physical action on the ground.

He is of course under tremendous pressure from Home Minister Advani, the perpetual contender for the top post. In fact, political insiders say that it was to ease the pressure somewhat that during the recent assembly elections, while taunting the Congress and its supreme leader Sonia Gandhi, the slogan had gone out that the BJP had three leaders to the solitary one of the Congress: Vajpayee, Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Reviving Joshi’s name was a signal, perhaps, that Advani need not be so cocky in thinking himself as the automatic choice of the BJP and the NDA to succeed Vajpayee.

The BJP is focusing on the Sabarmati Express as the cause of the conflagration now lit in Gujarat, but without going into the Chicken-And-Egg syndrome, there is little doubt that nation-wide communal tension is sourced to the ultimatums that have been given by the VHP on starting the work in Ayodhya for a Ram temple from 12 march 2002. Continued

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