Focus

Hafiz Goose, Gander Modi, Different Sauce!

By NM Sampathkumar Iyangar

Were the anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in Gujarat part of State-part of an orchestrated violence as numerous quarters from across India and the world think they were? The Nanavati-Mehta Judicial Commission has, at last, taken a formal decision that rubbishes persistent claims by human rights watchers to that effect. The commission's order issued on Sept 18 and made public on Sept 19 characterized testimonies not just of activists but of top police officers as well as "vague allegations" and "unwarranted assumptions." It categorically refused to summon Narendra Modi to question him on his actions and inactions, which his own Party supremo AB Vajpayee described it as a "blot" on India's face.

Around the same time that the former Supreme Court judge stuck to his position to not touch an alleged criminal responsible for massacre of hundreds of Muslims, the honourable Home Minister of the country, P Chidambaram, was singing an entirely different tune. Commenting on the restriction imposed by Pakistan government on the movement of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed for the second time in this year, Chidambaram said: "My demand is that now that he (Saeed) has been arrested he should be interrogated on the 26/11 incidents. His role in the 26/11 attacks must be investigated."
Chidambaram is just back from a junket to US where he urged anyone who cared to meet him to intervene in the issue and press Pakistan to deal sternly with the Chief of Jamaatud Dawa. Any person with a trace left of a sense of balance would observe the striking double standards. What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander too. It is simply not fair to divorce prosecution of a scholarly Islamic ideologue for alleged crimes from interrogation of a street-smart chief scientist of the laboratory of [a barbaric brand of] Hindutva that called for the pogrom.

The judicial panel that so nonchalantly indulged in whitewashing comprises of retired justices GT Nanavati and Akshay Mehta currently. Funnily enough, it was to shed authentic judicial light and bring the truth behind the actual masterminds that the Commission is supposed to exist. Both Nanavati and Mehta have no reason to shorten their sinecure assignments, secured to reward loyalty to appropriate regimes during employment. Another dignitary - Justice KG Shah - was to originally head the panel. But, the farce of a known BJP loyalist heading the Commission was too obvious to continue. He was not outright dumped, but allowed to work under Nanavati. This he did for six years before dying in 2008 after serving the cause of 'justice' in India till the age of 73.

Nanavati had headed a Commission to probe the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Predictably, he could not even move his little finger against powerful cronies of Indira/Rajiv Gandhi, who 'bravely' taught a lesson to a whole community. From all indications, the wizened 74-year-old appears set to serve the cause of justice till in his late 80s. Given the 'dynamic' pace of his work, he may surpass the record of Justice Liberhan, who took 17 years to compile a monumental record of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

The 'honourable' judges also rejected the plea to summon two of Modi's lieutenants, Ashok Bhatt and Gordhan Zadaphia. The same rationale to shield Modi was employed to let them off the hook. Ashok Bhatt had been a prominent don of Khadia area in Ahmedabad in his heydays. After providing "protection" to the wealthiest of traders in Gujarat concentrated in the busy locality, he became a typical Indian trade union boss, much sought after by tycoons to buy industrial peace. Becoming Modi's health minister in 2002, he became law minister and is now the 'honourable' Speaker of the august Assembly of lawmakers of the state. Zadaphia was the home minister who oversaw the pre-preparations and the conduct of the riots. Impatient to consolidate his power through more hawkish postures, he soon fell out with his boss. However, Zadaphia has been lucky to escape the fate of Haren Pandya - another Home Minister who fell out with Modi due to overambitions and got bumped off under mysterious circumstances.

As a saving grace, the Commission decided to get tough with three small-time staff of those days, who ran errands for the CM. The personal assistants Sanjay Bhavsar, Tanmay Mehta and Om Prakash Singh have been directed to file affidavits. They have been asked to recall their mobile-phone communications at the height of the riots between February 28 and 3 March 2002.

The Commission came to this decision on an application moved on 31 August 2007 after a full two years of careful analysis. Jan Sangharsh Manch, a civil rights organization fighting for 'justice' of a different kind incomprehensible to the honourable judges, had asked it to summon them for questioning. The learned judges could not agree with any of the eight contentions submitted by its counsel Mukul Sinha. The JSM counsel had wanted to question - apart from Modi, Bhatt and Zadaphia - the three personal assistants as well as RJ Savani, DCP, Ahmedabad Zone 5 during the days of the disgraceful governance.

"The commission does not think it proper to summon the chief minister or any other minister of the government and question them about the incidents merely on the basis of vague allegations or wrong and unwarranted assumptions," the panel observed in the order. At the same time, Tanmay Mehta and Sanjay Bhavsar have been asked to state if they had talked to Jaydeep Patel, a notorious VHP leader of Naroda in Ahmedabad.

The honourable judges directed Om Prakash to inform it through an affidavit whether or not a mobile phone, number 9825000836, was registered in his name or whether it belonged to him otherwise. He is to confirm whether or not he had talked with any or both of the honourable ministers (NOT the honourable CM!) over the phone. The Commission wants to know the nature of conversations if he does not choose to deny them outright. Nanavati and Mehta obviously find it difficult to sweep under the carpet the data of mobile calls collected by IPS officer Rahul Sharma about conversations between key characters during the pogrom.

Jaydeep Patel had proudly taken credit for teaching some essential lessons to hundreds of "Muslim upstarts" in the state during and after riots. He was nabbed along with Madam Maya Kodnani, a sitting minister in Modi's cabinet, only after the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team could not delay it any further. It is another matter that it is business as usual for both the dignitaries currently, who are happily out on bail. That should not surprise anyone conversant with trends in India ever since the country became 'free'. Ruling as well as opposition groups, whether at the state or at the Central level, have been artfully collaborating with one another to destroy any semblance of human rights that existed for minority communities under colonial rule.

The nexus between "communal fundamentalist" state governments on the one hand and New Delhi and its supposedly independent arms on the other hand is particularly striking. Occasional "remedies" to undo injustice come about only after so much of delay as to make them a cruel joke. That too is limited to cases where international human rights groups exert tremendous pressure. Not just in Gujarat, the conspiracy to rob life and liberty of individuals is nationwide. The prosecution invariably can go on extending custody of uncomfortable suspects till they go insane. Courts have no qualms to readily deny bail to hapless victims who lack enough resources to feed parasites. In order to prove their loyalty to authorities, they have robbed hundreds of families of their breadwinners.

A person needs to be as wealthy as Rubabuddin Sheikh - brother of Sohrabuddin Sheikh who was eliminated in cold blood by top IPS officers of Gujarat - to interest the Apex Court in gross inhumanities. Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi were kidnapped in broad daylight from an APSRTC bus in connivance with top cops in Maharashtra to stage a bizarre 'encounter' in Gujarat.


Often, the occasional churning of the 'conscience' of high-profile judges fails to have any impact either on victims/their kin or the murderers. For example, the murderer IPS officers who fraudulently cooked up a conspiracy by Sohrabuddin to kill Narendra Modi are enjoying five-star comforts in jail. It should not be surprising to see them one day as honourable ministers like Bhatt and Kodnani! Investigations by Anti-Terrorist Squad into the "conspiracies to kill Modi" are still going on and the Muslim youths picked up for alleged role are rotting without trial.

It is interesting to observe the trashing by Nanavati-Mehta duo of the widespread demands to question Modi in the light of New Delhi's persistent demand for prosecuting Hafiz Saeed, who it claims is the alleged mastermind behind November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. It is not entirely impossible that the JuD chief played a direct role in the carnage, as India claims he had. Nor is it right to rule out offhand that he has distanced himself completely from the activities of LeT, as he claims. While LeT continues its struggle to "liberate" Kashmir from "occupation forces", JuD has been an NGO since it was formed, from all available evidence. JuD is known for deep dedication to charitable activities, efficiency and dynamic management. Like any respectable Church group, the constructive work it does is beyond governments' capabilities.

Perhaps, Hafiz was indeed involved in the Mumbai attacks, in which ten gunmen went on a 60-hour rampage that killed 166 people. Perhaps, what the Lahore High Court found to be mere "hearsay & conjectures" on examining the dossiers prepared by the Indian authorities was only a part of the unveiled facts. It must be recalled that Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Maharashtra's CM Deshmukh had been quietly removed from public view after the attacks, apparently to keep disturbing facts about highly placed Indian dignitaries in the dark.

Be that as it may, the "crime" was more than a full 6-1/2 after close to 2000 innocents were slaughtered and tens of thousands driven off from habitats in 2002. The whole world is aware of the person whose actions and inactions fueled the pogrom. He allegedly instructed the administration not to restrain rampaging Hindutva goons from taking revenge. He justified the violence as "action-reaction phenomenon" for the burning of two rail coaches full of passengers and said the mobs must be allowed to "vent their anger." Yet, the Nanavati-Mehta Commission supposed to facilitate dispensing justice "does not think it proper" to inconvenience the gentleman by questioning him, let alone arresting him!

The only work that India's security agencies have managed in the last ten months, apart from staging fake encounters and stepping up security to VIPs, has only been to produce bulky dossiers. P Chidambaram, who became the boss of New Delhi's internal security machinery after the sacking of Shivraj Patil, did not bat an eyelid to claim: "Evidence is in Pakistani soil. When Pakistan says give us evidence, evidence is not on Indian soil, all the evidence against Hafiz Saeed is on Pakistani soil… Therefore, one must investigate in Pakistan and find the evidence in Pakistan(!)"

It is not that Chidambaram is so naïve as to be blind to the problems of the fledgling civilian government in Pakistan to bow to the diktats of the big brother even if wants to. Unfortunately, the governmental structure in that country is different from India's. For one thing, courts elsewhere are not as pliable as Indian courts. It is possible in India to keep anyone, particularly a Muslim, in jail without trial with courts' nod by following "proper" procedure. Arbitrarily picked up suspects of terror dramas can be convicted and sentenced to death based solely on "confessions" extracted in custody. The interior minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik has repeatedly told the Indian high commissioner that their judiciary wants authentic documents "particularly that information which we need from India."

When the JuD chief was put under house arrest for the first time, the courts directed his release because the charges were "sketchy". Currently, Saeed has been booked in two cases under Anti-Terrorism Act in Faisalabad for making "provocative speeches, urging people to wage a jihad against infidels." No self-respecting judge anywhere in the world will consider sympathizing per se with a struggle against suppression of popular aspirations in an "occupied territory" as terrorism. In any civilized country, prosecution can be based only on specific offences and no one can be punished simply for beliefs.

Chidambaram, however, crossed all limits of diplomatic decency when he termed the Lahore High Court's verdict setting Hafiz Saeed free on grounds of insufficient grounds as "charade." It is anyone's guess whether the independent judiciary will sanction indefinite detention of the Professor, as long as Indian rulers attempt doctoring their dossiers, blacking out disturbing facts about Indian citizens, without whose knowledge such an attack could not have taken place. It is uncomfortable for both the ruling elite and the ones in opposition to admit that the countless terror bomb blasts, including the Mumbai attacks, cannot be blamed on JuD or Syeed alone.

Warmongering with a neighbour, already badly bruised in a different conflict, happens to be a compulsion to the ruling elite of India. It needs to cover up not just glaring intelligence and security lapses in case of the Mumbai attack. All round tyranny and corruption have led to breakdown of constitutional institutions and failures of all governing structures. No wonder, numerous foreign affairs bureaucrats, high profile politicians and the Media were pressed to mount a strident rhetoric, short of declaration of war. Scaring the neighbour and the international community about a flare up between nuclear armed adversaries, the rulers calculate, can secure some sort of "triumph" over the imaginary enemy. Showcasing the imaginary 'triumph', achieved at mind-boggling costs to the public, has repeatedly been successful in drumming up patriotic frenzy to let them continue reigning over the masses.

The Indian political class has managed to erect an invisible apartheid system, right since the British Empire vacated all its colonies, transferring power to home-grown leaderships. The apartheid affected the minority community of 27 million Christians only to a limited extent, mainly because of their highly developed institutions in economic and social spheres. The 160-plus million Muslims who are comparatively poor and backward due to the migration of a big chunk of the well-off sections to Pakistan and elsewhere, on the other hand, are the worst victims.

Perpetration of the apartheid system is the main objective for provoking conflicts deliberately and repeatedly. It is also behind the simmering dispute over Kashmir. Stationing of seven lakh troops in the disputed territory, resulting in routine human rights abuses, can only fuel retaliatory terror. After every incident of terrorism and riots, it is normal to pick up a number of Muslim youth on mere "suspicion" and let them rot without trial in jail indefinitely with courts' consent. Also, any disapproval from this section for suicidal war advocacy is equated to treason. In the cruelest manifestation of the apartheid system, Muslims are expected to declare their unconditional allegiance to the powers-that-be after every riot and every outbreak of conflict, or face social ostracism.

It is ironic to find that the Muslim leadership in India has routinely herded the masses steeped in ignorance and backwardness to back the Congress party. This translates into covertly supporting the apartheid policy, because it was Congress that had sown and has been nourishing the invisible apartheid. It will be no exaggeration to state that the likes of BJP and Shiv Sena have only taken advantage of this policy to a limited extent. In most cases, including in the eyewash probe into the Gujarat pogrom, they have been partnered by the Congress top brass and the constitutional authorities that have been thoroughly corrupted.

Take the unceremonious burial given to Sri Krishna report into the Mumbai riots; take the 'effective' follow-up actions on Liberhan's 17-year eyewash of probing Babri demolition; take the Apex Court's wisdom behind jailing an unfortunate riot victim on contempt charges for flip-flopping in her deposition before it, frightened to the spine by powers that the court is powerless to touch; take the indifference to the plight of the POTA-accused in the Godhra train burning incident in 2002 who had to rot in jail for seven years without bail after POTA itself had been repealed but their release was stayed while the court took its own sweet time to dispose off a challenge to the repeal itself; take the hundreds of thousands of breadwinners behind bars in several states ruled by "secular" parties; take the case of NHRC's clean chit for the fake encounter at Batla House where the murderer cop was given top State honours... These are just a few of the nightmarish fruits of blindly allying with hypocritical groups that promote the apartheid. Unless the minorities assert themselves and bravely raise their voice against the bogey of war advocacy, it will be impossible to escape the vicious circle.

It is time that Indian rulers are forced to dismantle the invisible apartheid and end State-orchestrated terrorism within the country rather than spoiling for deadly conflagrations, which only adds to the agony of the people. As popular outrage gets out of control, there is every risk of their being overthrown through terror attacks. This can be averted only by instilling a sense of justness in State machinery and not by terrorizing people who demand that. Crying hoarse demanding prosecution of foreign citizens running NGOs to serve the people there cannot be the substitute for credible prosecution of highly placed goons responsible for mass murders. India must give utmost priority to purge the machinery if the goal of human rights protection and justice dispensation is to be achieved. The entire structure needs to be cleansed of parasites that use their top positions of office to sabotage justice from within, if India is not to implode.

The author is an independent analyst of South Asian issues, based in Ahmedabad, India.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2009 on page no. 1

We hope you liked this report/article. The Milli Gazette is a free and independent readers-supported media organisation. To support it, please contribute generously. Click here or email us at sales@milligazette.com

blog comments powered by Disqus