The Independent, 21 March, 2002
The hate train
Three weeks ago, a Muslim mob set fire to a train in western India, killing 58. More than 700 others died in the orgy of reprisals and counter-reprisals that followed. But the full, shocking truth about what really happened that day is only just emerging
By Peter Popham
20 March 2002
If you want to see what happened in the town of
Godhra on 27 February, it's not difficult. Jump down from the
platform of Godhra Junction station and clamber across half a
dozen tracks and take a look. The maroon sleeping car, No S/6,
has been shunted into the sidings now, away from the view of the
railway's regular customers. And it will not be back in service
any day soon.
The great heat of the fire inside has eaten away wide swirls of paint around the windows and scorched the steel sheeting brown. Inside, everything has been vaporised: flooring, ceiling, upholstery. Only the bones of the car remain, the charred framework of seats and beds. Here and there are reminders that human beings suffered in here: a few melted flip-flops, blackened brass drinking mugs, a burst sack of rice. The remains of the 58 who died were removed long ago.
The inferno at Godhra took place three weeks ago, but its horror shows no signs of abating. The work of Muslims, it triggered an instant and overwhelming backlash by Gujarat's Hindus. The people who died on the train were Hindus on their way back home to Gujarat from the contested temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, where they had been working as "karsevaks" (religious volunteers), helping to make preparations for the long-planned building of a huge temple dedicated to the god Ram, on the former site of (until its demolition by Hindus 10 years ago) a large 16th-century mosque.
The struggle over the Ayodhya site is the most emotive communal dispute in the subcontinent, and in the days that followed the burning of the train compartment, that emotion boiled over in Gujarat. The state's Hindu majority exploded with a murderous yet systematic ferocity such as India has never experienced before. Fifty-eight deaths by fire in Godhra provoked more than 700 Muslim deaths throughout the state. And even now, when relative calm has returned, the wounds remain. Life in Gujarat will never be the same again. Hindu and Muslim in Gujarat will never look at each other in the same way, never share the same living spaces, or rub shoulders at work or school or in the shops without remembering these appalling days.
So the exact nature of what happened at Godhra has become a matter of intense interest. Theories abound: it was the work of Pakistan's military intelligence, the ISI, India's all-purpose bogeyman; it was the doing of mujahedin terrorists; it was a pre-planned conspiracy by the local Muslim community, hence the arrest of practically all the prominent Muslims in the town. The problem is that none of these theories mesh with the evidence.
Official investigations are in under way, but the massacre has become a political football and it is hard to imagine any conclusions untainted by political calculation. Fortunately, conscientious local journalists have been hard at work. The evidence they have amassed, together with new witness accounts obtained by The Independent, paints a clear and persuasive picture of an avoidable tragedy.
What happened in car S/6 was the hideous finale. The story began nearly 36 hours earlier.
On the evening of Monday 25 February, at 5.30pm, several hundred karsevaks in the temple town of Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh, tramped to the nearby station of Faisabad and boarded the Sabarmati Express. They were Gujaratis, and they were going home. Gujarat, in western India, has been the most fruitful breeding ground in the whole country for Hindu nationalists. And the karsevaks are Hindu nationalists in the raw: young men with modest educations and poor prospects inflamed, thanks to clever propaganda, with a zeal to right India's historic wrongs and repair the Hindus' wounded pride. The organisations that find, inspire and recruit these suggestible young men are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal pseudo-religious paramilitary groups committed to building the Ram temple, creating true Hindu rule in India and putting India's 150 million Muslims in their place.
The karsevaks from Gujarat were in Ayodhya because India's great D-Day is fast approaching. The event, they claim, that will ring in the era of true Hindu self-assertion is the building of a mighty temple on the supposed site of the birth of the Hindu god Ram at Ayodhya. Until 6 December 1992, the site was occupied by a mosque, the Babri Masjid, which they believe was erected on the rubble of the original Ram temple. On that day, several thousand karsevaks tore the mosque to pieces. Now the great consummation is at hand. For years, stonemasons in Rajasthan and Ayodhya have been carving pillars for the majestic new temple. Their work is almost complete. As soon as it becomes politically feasible, karsevaks will begin hauling the carved pillars to the contested site, and the construction of the temple will begin.
The Hindu groups would be much happier, they insist, if the process went ahead peacefully. "The construction of a grand Rama temple," they write in a new pamphlet, "offers a unique opportunity to the Muslims for commencing an era of enormous love and understanding between the Hindus and Muslims of this country." All the Muslims have to do is give the new temple their blessing.
But as this appears highly unlikely, the karsevaks have been gathering in Ayodhya to help bring this event about in the same way they brought about the downfall of the Babri Masjid; by force.
These were the sort of people who joined the train that Monday evening: young men, heads wrapped in saffron headbands, happy and elated after their stint at the holy site. Think football supporters on the move in one of the old supporters' specials. Many were also drunk or stoned, or equipped to get that way: flexible, tolerant Hinduism has no hard and fast rules about such things. And they were coming back to Gujarat, the only state in the Indian union that is still "dry". All the more reason to have a bottle or two tucked away.
The train shuffled through the night, crossing Uttar Pradesh and emerging into the broad, empty vistas of central India. The train was late: after a day and a half, it was running four and a half hours behind schedule. That's why it arrived in Godhra not at 2.55am, as scheduled, but at 7.15am. By this time, the karsevaks were much the worse for wear.
Trouble had started at Dahod station, nearly one hour and 75km up the tracks. The train had reached Dahod around 6am, and a number of karsevaks got out of compartment S/6 to have tea and snacks at a stall on the platform. Already they were drunk and unruly. An argument broke out between the Hindus and the Muslim man running the tea stall according to one account, they refused to pay unless he chanted "Jai Shri Ram", the chant of Lord Ram's devotees. He refused to oblige, and they started to smash up his stall, before climbing back into the carriage. The stallholder filed a complaint with the railway police.
At Godhra, a similar scene ensued. The karsevaks, now noisily drunk, poured on to the platform, ordered more tea and snacks, consumed them, and then made difficulties. Exactly what transpired between the bearded Muslim stallholder and the travellers varies from one account to another. But all witness accounts seen by The Independent agree that there was a row. "They argued with the old man on purpose," one witness said, on condition of anonymity. "They pulled his beard and beat him up... They kept repeating the slogan 'mandir ki nirmaan karo, Babar ki aulad ko bahar karo'." ("Build the temple and throw out the Muslims...")
Suddenly the row took a dangerous new turn: the karsevaks grabbed hold of a Muslim woman. Her identity, and how she became involved, remain ambiguous, but four different witnesses mention this event. One says it was the 16-year-old daughter of the abused tea-seller. She "came forward and tried to save her father". Another mentions a woman washing clothes by the railway line being hauled away. A third describes how a Muslim girl wearing a burqa and taking a shortcut to school through the station platform was pounced on and dragged into the carriage. All agree that a Muslim woman was hauled into the carriage by the karsevaks, who slammed the door and would not let her go. Refusing to be quoted by name, a local policeman confirms the story.
And suddenly, what had been just an ugly little fracas, a drunken pantomime of power and subjugation, became something far more explosive.
The karsevaks were too drunk for their own good, or they would have chosen a different station at which to pull such a stunt. Because now the social geography of Godhra came into play.
Godhra is unusual in Gujarat because its population is pretty well exactly half Hindu and half Muslim. Three hours east of Ahmadabad, a market for the dusty farms round about, Godhra has many temples and mosques, but it has no other amenities except for a Catholic school and a Sikh restaurant. Time was, as in most of the subcontinent, when the Hindu and Muslim traders lived crammed in upon each other in the old town. But, in 1981, Godhra was racked by the worst civil riots in its history. Curfew was clamped on the place for an entire year. When it was finally lifted, the Muslims fled the old town, building themselves crude cement villas on wasteland behind the bazaar. Since then, the two communities have lived as separately as possible.
Godhra station, to the regret of the Hindus, is located in an area that is now entirely Muslim. And a huddle of Muslim-owned businesses sprang up in shacks alongside the tracks, many of them motor-repair yards. This little slum, known as Signal Fadia, has all the material a riot could require: stacks of bricks, petrol, and paraffin and calor gas cylinders. But it also had the necessary human material: a community impoverished and bitter and surviving on the margins of criminality.
The woman seized by the karsevaks was dragged into compartment S/6, and word of what had happened began to spread. "The girl began screaming for help," said Ahmed, a wood dealer who was waiting for a train going the other way. "Muslims who were travelling on the train got off. People began pouring on to the platform to try to rescue her. I ran home I could see trouble was brewing..."
The train moved off, and the gathering crowd began pelting the carriage with bricks. Inside the train, someone pulled the emergency cord; the train stopped, then moved off again; the cord was pulled again 1km out of the station, and this time the train stopped and stayed stopped. "People in the vicinity... started to gather near the train," says one witness. "The mob... requested that the karsevaks return the girl. But instead of returning the girl, they started closing their windows. This infuriated the mob..."
The brawl had become a battle, with the karsevaks piling in with their swords and sticks, and a crowd now said to be 1,000-strong streaming in from the slum, bringing petrol, gas, rags anything that would burn. Their gas cylinders broke the bars on the windows and exploded inside; the petrol bombs flew through and set the upholstery and the people trapped inside on fire. By the time that the police arrived in strength one hour later, there was nothing to be saved.
Local members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad quickly sought revenge, burning down the slum by the tracks and a mosque in the town. But that was only the beginning.
The Hindu, Sunday, March 10, 2002
Genocide in the land of Gandhi
The violence in Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat was unparalleled for its barbarism. Anjali Mody reports
THERE WAS a brutality to the carnage in Ahmedabad, which even in a city with as long a history of communal conflagrations as this one, was unprecedented. They reel off the list of past convulsions 1969, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992. But this one, almost everyone is agreed, is different. One senior police officer told us, "the intention this time was mass murder of Muslims".
Another police officer said the violence in Gujarat was not a "riot". "A riot involves a clash of two groups. In every conflict in the State before this one both sides suffered. Both shared a sense of loss, both could turn to the State for help. This time the Muslims alone have been under attack with what appears to be the backing of the State."
Prof. Shamsie, a retired University professor, described it as a "State-sponsored conspiracy... they spared no one... they attacked hutments... bastis and flats where High Court judges live... it was like ethnic cleansing''. His son, Arif Shamsie, a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry, who returned from abroad to live in his home city four years ago, said, "they were just waiting for an opportunity... they knew where to go, who to get and what to do."
They are not the only ones who see a design in the carnage of the last 10 days. Even senior police officers with long years of experience working in this troubled State say there was nothing random about the attacks. One officer, who described the carnage as "genocide", said, "a substantial amount of homework was done before hand... they knew which shop, business, factories... which home belonged to a Muslim". "They" victims, witnesses and police officers are all agreed are the warriors of the Sangh Parivar, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal.
The attacks in Ahmedabad, took in every class and treated them all alike. Killing and robbing and burning them. The violence in Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat was unparalleled for its barbarism. Entire families were burnt alive in their homes. Police officers say this method of brutality was tested during the Surat riots of December 1992 when 40 Muslims were burnt alive in a room in the Chokha Bazaar area. This time it has been used to great effect. In just one case in Ahmedabad over 20 people were killed inside a mosque in Naroda-Patiya. Burning people alive, a police officer said, was "Hitlerite".
Hanif Lakdawala, a social activist with the NGO, Sanchetna, said the intention was to create so much fear that people only felt safe among their own. He said there was a definite method: "First to economically cripple the community, destroying businesses, factories, and all movable property and then to terrify the people." The attacks were also calculated to hit those parts of the city that had not seen a communal conflict, such as Navrangpura, Satellite Road, Vastrapur and Shahibagh on the west bank of the Sabarmati where Muslims are in a minority. He said already the city "is divided into Muslim areas and Hindu areas", what they want to do is "complete the ghettoisation".
Across the city, in relief camp after relief camp, survivors told the same story. They were attacked by a large mob. The timing of the majority of the attacks was mid-morning of February 28, the day of the VHP bandh in the State, although many took place on March 1, more than 24 hours after a "curfew" was imposed. The attackers were mostly "outsiders". Survivors from industrial estates such as Vatwa and Naroda have named local men with criminal backgrounds and commonly known to work as mercenaries. Many in the mob were armed with swords and knives. The police force either did not answer calls for help or was itself the attacker, pushing the fleeing people towards the mob by firing at them or hemming them into narrow lanes. Shops and houses were looted and set on fire using petrol bombs or rags soaked in petrol, and LPG and oxygen "bottles".
Police confirm this pattern. So do the 200 Hindu families in Anand Flats relief camp in Gomtipur. All residents of Chunnilal ki chali in Bapunagar, their story is identical to their Muslim neighbours' a mob attack ("hamare Hindu log hi the" [The attackers were our own Hindu people - Translation by The Indian Terrorism Page]) and they fled. Their homes were fire-bombed, nothing remains, not even a cooking pot. The only difference is that all men, women and children have arrived at one place and are accounted for. Their Muslim neighbours, however, now scattered across the Aman Chowk and Bakar Shah ka Roza relief camps are incomplete families, with many names figuring in the lists of injured and missing.
Outside Ahmedabad, in the rural areas of Kheda, Mehsana and Panchmahal, where communal violence was barely known, mobs have emptied entire villages of their Muslim residents. The same tools of terror employed in the city were utilised to brutal effect looting, arson and death. In Pandarwara in Panchmahal and Sardarpura in Mehsana those incarcerated before being burnt to death included little children. The survivors have walked to villages where there are enough Muslims to ensure their safety in numbers or have been rescued by the Army and dumped in relief camps in the city.
In Ahmedabad there are also reports of sexual assaults and rape, including of a girl as young as 12. They are told in whispers, or by victims too young to comprehend the implications of what has been done to them. As always this is a subject that few, even in the affected community, want to deal with. The burden of rape must be borne by the victim alone. She and those who seek justice for her are likely to be ostracised. Police confirmed that they knew of cases of survivors who were raped. They also said that at more than one scene of carnage, the charred bodies of women suggested they had been raped, killed and then burnt. One social worker said that by suppressing these crimes an injustice is done and the sense of being wronged, of the humiliation of an entire community, festers.
There was also another element to the pattern of violence never seen before in Ahmedabad: a systematic destruction and desecration of mosques, dargahs and mazars. Countless such buildings were either partially or fully destroyed. The mosque in the middle of Naroda's busy bazaar was a few hundred meters from the local police station and the mazar of poet Vali Gujarati stood in the middle of the road between the police lines and the Police Commissioner's office in Shahibagh.
In some places all that remains of a mosque or a dargah is the memory of those who knew it stood there 10 days ago. The civil administration, which has been slow to do anything for the people of Ahmedabad made destitute by the violence, has been quick to erase any signs that these buildings actually existed. It has levelled the land and removed the rubble at the sites of 22 mosques and mazars, turning them into vacant plots, or in the case of Vali Gujarati's mazar into part of the road that runs by the Police Commissioner's office. Sonal Mehta of the People's Union for Human Rights and an old Ahmedabadi said, "it is not only the people they want to get rid of... but also the history of this city which gives them a place in it... it is like Ayodhya".
In many places in the city, Maha-artis, a public ritual favoured by the VHP, were held including at the Mansa Masjid in Bapunagar and Noor Masjid in Hardasnagar and statues of Hanuman placed inside. Even now saffron flags hang from the minarets of desecrated mosques. No one dares remove them. Apparently not even the police. Why? A police officer said it was "the determination to humiliate a whole community with the full arrogance of state power." This is the pattern. Like medieval raiders they plunder, rape and destroy places of worship of other communities. The virility of their culture and their political agenda seems to be judged by their power to destroy.
Unquestionably, there was police complicity in the carnage. The city Police Commissioner, P. C. Pandey, appeared to disown the responsibility of stopping the carnage by saying it was hard to control the violence as the policemen on the street were communal. What could he, a mere Police Commissioner, do against a community of bigots policed by bigots? But the fact is, as many police officers agree, Ahmedabad was bloodied because the police high command and the civil administration allowed it to be bloodied. There is little doubt that those who carried the lists of targets the shops to burn and loot and the homes to seek and destroy were all familiar to the police.
But, Mukul Sinha, a civil rights lawyer, said the mobilisation of the mob was done by those at the top. He said that apart from identifiable VHP/Bajrang Dal "leaders", the mob was made up of "normal ordinary people... with a consistent communal approach". He said, "if you keep hammering into them that they must seek revenge... they will". He described as "diabolical" the constant repetition, by everyone from the Chief Minister and former RSS pracharak, Narendra Modi, that the violence unleashed on the State was a "reaction" to the Godhra killings. Survivors, journalists and police all speak of men with saffron bandanas or scarves, who were part of the mobs which rampaged through Ahmedabad, stopping people and forcing them to say "Jai Shri Ram".
In the Gomtipur area, Mohan Bundela, a social activist with the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, witnessed the assault by a mob of a few hundred, led by 30 or 40 men carrying swords and trishuls and wearing "kesari patkas". Mr. Bundela said the slum opposite Ambika Mill No 8, was attacked by men shouting "Jai Shri Ram".
He said the mob collected petrol from a local police sub-inspector called "Modi" which then went into empty mineral water bottles to form the incendiary devices that burnt down the slum of some 260 hutments. In such poor neighbourhoods, the Ahmedabad Development Authority is busy bulldozing "encroachments", slums that have existed for 10, 15 sometimes 20 years, and taking over the land. The residents of these areas were, according to James Dhabi, of the St. Xavier's Social Service Society, people who had previously been displaced by riots and the changing geography of the city. They have lost everything in the carnage; importantly all their papers such as ration cards which provide proof that they lived in the city and have claim to any piece of it. Without such proof and with the State determined not to let them return it seems they will have to go. "But where will they go," wondered Father Dhabi. To safer places. To neighbouring States.
A convenient way for this Government to get rid of a population it sees as less than human, a population that will never be part of its vote bank.
The killing may have ended for the time being, but the hate campaign continues. Hindu volunteers at relief camps have been threatened with violence (by people of their own community) and forced to stop their work in some places. Pamphlets calling for a boycott of Muslim businesses and making other inflammatory statements are in wide circulation in the city. Amid this there is talk of "peace", of returning to "normal''. But the chasm that divides this city seems unbridgeable. A Muslim police officer said he felt ashamed to be working in the city's police force and that his intention was "to leave this State or leave the service".
Arif Shamsie, who returned to India four years ago because he felt he had "something to contribute to my country", is wondering if he had made the worst decision in his life. This decision to leave, the regret at returning, is what the Sangh Parivar intended. It hopes the police officer and Mr. Shamsie will follow the hundreds who are already, belongings in hand, walking down the State's highways towards its borders.
'Gujarat riots were designed to undermine the Muslim community's economic foundation'
Noted historian Mushirul Hasan tells Rinku Pegu that the Gujarat mayhem was the manifestation of hate politics that builds itself very manipulatively on the fear of the "other"
New Delhi, March 8
How will history judge the Gujarat riots?
The Gujarat riots are unique in many ways. One is the connivance of the state. For the first time, the state government was the agent provocateur, as was brought out clearly in the statement by Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The government is the perpetrator, in one sense, and, in another, the instigator. For the first time, the Central government has not performed the role it was expected to perform in matters such as this. In fact, from all the statements it issued, it sounded biased. It has not taken the chief minister to task.
The other unique facet of the Gujarat riots was the systematic way in which property and commercial establishments of the Muslims were targeted. It is very unfortunate, because the Muslim community in Gujarat is very different from that in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They are culturally and socially better integrated. Language itself is a very strong bonding - Gujarati is their mother tongue and not Urdu.
The selective targeting of minority interests blows a hole in the government's theory that minority bashing was a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra incident
Historically, the communal debates of North India have never been part of the public discourse in Gujarat. Gujarat's Muslim population consists mainly of trading, merchant and business communities, such as the Khwajas and the Bohras, who have a great deal in common with the Gujarati trading and banking communities. So, economically also, the Muslims of Gujarat are much more closely linked with the mainstream than in Bihar and UP (Uttar Pradesh), where there is a complete absence of these communities. Therefore, the targeting of the business establishments of the Muslims by the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and the Bajrang Dal is part of a very calculated design to undermine the economic foundation of the Muslim community. And if this is not ethnic cleansing, what is? The majority is comfortable with the images of Muslims as tailors and craftsmen and not as successful businessmen with lucrative businesses.
Why do fundamentalists on both sides of the spectrum, Hindu and Muslim, find takers for their hate and regressive ideologies?
In a lot of areas, you will find a whole lot of social and economic explanations. I think Gujarat is very different. My view is that Gujarat has been so systematically communalised right from 1959, when the first major communal outbreak took place. This whole process of communalization, to which the Congress, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the regional formations have contributed, have actually polarised Gujarati society. And to such an extent that even a Gandhi today will find it difficult to reverse the process. Gujarat is also unique, in the sense that it has no major record of any secular movement or trade union or left movement. Or the kind of caste movement that Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav initiated in UP and Bihar. This can be explained by the fact that Gujarat does not have the intellectual resources to basically counter the escalation of communal feelings.
But Gujarat is the land of Mahatma Gandhi
There is no Gandhian legacy in Gujarat. Although the Mahatma was from Gujarat, it was never the real laboratory of the Gandhian movement, which operated from outside the state. The Muslims were never part of the Gandhian movement in Gujarat. The Muslims were never mobilized, as a result of which they kept away. And if you look at the names of the Sabarmati inmates right from the time when it was started, you will hardly find any Muslim name. This has been bothering me as a historian - as to why (it was so), when (it was) Gandhiji who had started his political career in South Africa with the Muslims, in India and in Gujarat very few Muslims were part of the Gandhian movement. So, I don't know who there is and how he will provide the healing touch to Gujarat. And this is the social reality.
Why are other identities subservient to religious identities in India?
This is because in India religious identity is still the primary means to articulate one's being. And it has not been undermined or weakened by secularisation of the country after Independence. Secularism has really not been translated from an ideology of the state to that of the people. And this lack of any movement for secularisation can be explained by the fact that economic change has been so slow, with the distribution of resources being completely uneven. Caste and community mobilisation is the resource that is available to the politicians, who use it to their advantage. As a result, an alternative from of mobilisation that Pandit Nehru was thinking of, or which was set out by the Constitution, was something that nobody paid heed to.
How do you explain the paralysis of the political class in averting the Gujarat mayhem?
What we witness today is the ascendancy of a family of a political force that is out to undermine the country. The Congress played politics. No doubt Indira Gandhi weakened the institutions, but what we have today is systematic destruction of all the values, all the ideas, all the institutions that could and possibly keep the country together. The BJP is playing politics only for personal party aggrandisement and completely disregarding all the values and norms of governance. It is a major crisis of governance and I do not know how this crisis is going to be resolved. I think this country is going to pay a heavy price for bringing this family (the Sangh Parivar) into power. And, therefore, it is a monumental tragedy that the Congress collapsed in the way it did. And the vacuum created by the collapse was filled in by a party like the BJP, which has no public accountability.
Does the Gujarat crisis foreshadow a deeper crisis in Indian democracy itself?
What one is wary of is the political design of the Sangh Parivar. One is also concerned about the complete lack of transparency, One is concerned about where the decisionmaking process lies. Does it lie with the prime minister or does it lie with some RSS office at Jhandewalan? One is also concerned about the lack of any political coherence and the fact that wherever the BJP is in power in the states, its performance has been appallingly poor, despite all its claims. And what further fuels my concern is the fact that this formation is going to be in power for some time to come. Sadly, the only real alternative to the exclusive Rightist agenda of the Sangh Parivar, which is the Left parties, is in a mess. In all previous governments and alliances, the Left was a catalyst and they played their role effectively. But, now, the Left has ceased to be even a catalyst. And with the caste movements remaining regional - and given the uneven distribution of the Backward Castes in different parts of the country - the possibility of transregional alliances and of an all-India force emerging is a remote possibility. I do not see a major reversal of the process triggered by the Sangh Parivar.
In the backdrop of Gujarat, there is a perception that this time the Ram temple is going to be built, against all Constitutional norms. Do you share this perception?
I hope the Ram Janmabhoomi temple is not built at the disputed site. And if it does, one will be traumatised, anguished and alienated in one's own country.
'The behaviour of the Gujarat administration was despicable'
In a tirade against the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Dr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who recently went to Gujarat as part of an all-party team, says the establishment itself backed the riots in Gujarat, in an interview with Shamya Dasgupta
New Delhi, March 9
You were in Gujarat recently. What was your impression?
The impression was of utter failure on the part of the administration there. They have done absolutely nothing to improve the situation. The administration, apart from failing to control the rioting there, is also still at a loss for answers as to how the attack on the Sabarmati Express took place, and who pulled the chain for the train to stop at the strategic location. As far as the rioting in Ahmedabad and other areas in Gujarat is concerned, the government has failed to put in place any preventive measures. The paramilitary forces in Ahmedabad waited for ages till orders were given to them. Their deployment in the riot-stricken areas was delayed inordinately. The same was the case with the military forces and other riot-control forces.
According to what you found out, did the riot-control forces do the needful after deployment?
The riot areas were not targeted by the military at all.
So they failed?
Yes. The military was actually deployed in areas where the rioting was not so serious. The police and the military completely ignored the riot-hit areas. The efficiency level of the police was equally pathetic. When we spoke to them, they said they couldn't take action because they were waiting for instructions. What is the need for instructions when something like this happens? And where were the people who are supposed to issue instructions? Everything in Gujarat reeked of complete and utter negligence. There was massive negligence on the part of the administration of the state. They chose to allow killings, arson, robbery everything, to go on in front of their eyes. Huge numbers of people were dragged out of their houses and burnt alive on the streets. The police were standing a little distance away waiting for instructions. What sort of nonsense is this?
There was even a politician among the victims. He went on calling the police for four or five hours. No one came to his help. You can well imagine the condition of the common people. The police apparently told the Muslims point blank that they are incapable of protecting them.
How can you provide a rationale for this sort of barbaric, primitive behaviour? The scenes in Gujarat were unimaginable. The behaviour of the administration was despicable. They allowed the carnage to go on in front of them, and sat back and watched.
What about the medical situation? Has the government done enough to arrange for relief camps and other such things?
The government has not set up a single relief camp across Gujarat. The few relief camps there are have all been set up by the Non Government Organisations (NGOs). We, however, found a lot of religious discrimination even in those relief camps. There are specific Hindu relief camps and there are specific Muslim relief camps. Not one of the Muslims went to the government hospitals. We spoke to Muslims who told us that they didn't go to the government hospitals because they feared further torture there. And it is true, because a lot of the Muslims who went to government-run hospitals were actually killed there. There was discrimination everywhere. Even in the handing out of compensation.
You mean that the Muslims were not given adequate compensation?
Just after the Godhra incident, Narendra Modi announced in the assembly that a Rs 2 lakh compensation would be paid to the victims' families. But when the Hindus massacred the Muslims in Gujarat, the victims' families were only promised Rs 1 lakh as compensation. Even that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been sent to the Muslims yet. There is a limit to shamelessness. These people have crossed even that line. I have never seen anything like this. And as long as the Narendra Modi government is there, peace cannot be restored.
So you do believe that the government has instigated things there, to some extent?
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is at the bottom of everything. Well, not the BJP actually. It's the Sangh Parivar that has instigated the people and made them do what they have done. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are to blame for everything. The citizens couldn't have done something like this on their own. The right-wingers are on their way down in the country. Their graph is going down. The Narendra Modi government has done this in the hope that the Hindu reactions will be in his favour and he will do well in the next elections. We ministers can do this sort of thing if we want. The patrons of the recent Gujarat riots are clearly the Sangh Parivar and its members - the VHP, the RSS and the BJP.
What do you plan to do to restore normalcy in the state?
We can't show our face to the world now. The country's face has been blackened. The BJP's face has been blackened. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's face has been blackened. He has to resign now. Unless he resigns we can't show our face to the world. Narendra Modi must be sacked. He actually went on to say that what happened in Ahmedabad was in reaction to the Godhra incident.
Narendra Modi: implementing agency par excellence
It is not just Chief Minister Narendra Modi who is responsible for what has happened in Gujarat, because he is only a tool in the hands of greater powers, says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
New Delhi, March 7
Prior to becoming chief minister of Gujarat, he traced his ancestry to the legendary sisters - Tana and Rivi, with whom he shared the same ancestral village: Vadanagar in Mehsana district. The duo, the story goes, were summoned by Emperor Akbar to douse the Gangetic Plain after the legendary singer Tansen set it on flame by rendering the Raga Deepak.
With great pride, 52-year old Narendra Modi had said that the sisters sung Raga Malhar like no one else could and when the rains came, the sisters not only flooded the region with monsoon waters, but also initiated the series of season-based ragas that are now integral to Hindustani music.
It however takes little initiation into the complex world of classical music to comprehend that Modi's role model for the past few days has not been the duo. Rather, each of his utterances has been aimed at inflaming passions and driving the wedge deeper. But for anyone who has kept track of his meteoric rise in the world of the saffron family, none of his recent utterances have come as a surprise. In fact, he has finally lived up to his image of a hard-nosed RSS pracharak who would not bat an eyelid if it came to pursuing the organisation's agenda.
There are a couple of home truths that must be borne in mind before formulating any form of response to Modi's actions since the carnage at Godhra. First, it must be recalled that "Namo" - as Modi likes to be called by his close ones - first made his mark on the national political firmament as L K Advani's charioteer during his Somnath to Ayodhya rathyatra in 1990. Secondly, Modi's political grounding was in Gujarat, the state first swayed by the idea of Hindutva.
To understand any of Namo's actions over the past few days, it is important to get to the root of his political psyche. We need to know that he was barely 17 when he landed at the RSS office in Ahmedabad and offered his "services" to the Sangh. In between pursuit of formal academics that finally led to be being awarded an MA in Political Science, Modi was initiated in the rough and tumble of politics during the Nav Nirman movement of 1974.
One of the youth-brigade of the RSS, Modi was earmarked for the grind of politics by his mentors and throughout Emergency and in the years immediately after it, he made his mark as an ace organizational man. But it was his hard work in integrating the Ayodhya agitation with the political programmes of the BJP in the 1980s that simultaneously paved the way for two developments: a growing groundswell of support for the Ram Janambhoomi agitation in the state, and Modi's elevation as the secretary of the state unit of the BJP in 1988.
When the 1989 general elections were followed up by the Assembly elections in early 1990, the results indicated that though the BJP had made considerable strides, the party was still to emerge as the main challenger to the Congress. This was the time that Modi was instrumental in two key decisions of the BJP: to launch Advani on the rathyatra that changed the face of Indian polity forever and shift the then party president to Gujarat in the 1991 polls by getting him to contest from Gandhinagar.
Although the BJP strongman was hesitant on both counts, it was Modi's insistence that finally made Advani relent and he took the plunge first in August 1990 and later in 1991. The moves succeeded and not only was the BJP able to overcome the political setback caused by V P Singh's decision to implement the Mandal Commission report, but the decision to lead the campaign in 1991 with Advani at the helm of affairs in the state led to the party winning 20 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats besides polling more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. Modi thus can be called the quintessential Hindutva strategist as far as Gujarat is concerned.
It must however go to Modi's "credit" that he has never disguised his belief in the Hindutva idea of the harsh variety. Though not a direct participant in most of the VHP programmes in Ayodhya, he nonetheless was at the forefront of creating logistical facilities for ensuring that Gujarat sent the maximum number of volunteers in each of the programmes through the 1990s.
It is true that Modi rubbed several people in his party the wrong way but all criticism came to a naught because of his proximity with senior leaders in the Sangh Parivar and his single-minded pursuit of the Hindutva ideology. Though exhibiting a self-declared soft corner for electronic gadgets, he did not allow this to become a handicap. In spite of developing close ties with several industrial houses, Modi ensured that he did not make the mistake of becoming too close to them like Pramod Mahajan did and in the process earning the disrespect of RSS leaders.
Modi has often said that he rarely acted without consulting "elders of his political family". It is tough to imagine that he would have looked the other way while Gujarat burned without first speaking to some of his seniors - remember Advani represents Gandhinagar, one of the constituencies that was part of the area ravaged by the post-Godhra carnage.
Modi also would first have sought clearance and only then announced his controversial two-tiered compensation scheme: one for victims of the Godhra carnage and the other for those who died elsewhere.
It is not just Modi who is responsible for what has happened in Gujarat because he is only a tool. He is merely the "implementing agency" - if one can call it so. The rot goes much deeper and stems from the sentiment that the BJP can continue to remain a strong force in Gujarat only by following a policy of discrimination towards a certain section of citizens: in life as well as in death.
BBC, Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 18:29 GMT
NGO says Gujarat riots were planned
By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Delhi
A leading non-governmental organisation in India has alleged that recent communal rioting in western Gujarat state was systematically planned by Hindu mobs.
At least 700 people died when Hindu mobs went on the rampage, apparently in revenge for an attack by Muslims on a train-load of Hindu activists returning from the disputed holy site at Ayodhya.
But Dr Kamal Mitra Chenoy of the Sahmat organisation said Hindu groups were simply waiting for an excuse to launch pre-meditated attacks on Gujarat's religious minority.
He said the violence, which centred on the state's largest city, Ahmedabad, was targeted in a way that would not have been possible without prior planning.
In a report on the violence, Sahmat also criticised conditions in relief camps set up by the state government for more than 70,000 Muslims displace by the unrest.
Violence continued on Tuesday as four people were killed when police opened fire on mobs trying to torch buses and shops in Bharooch and Sabarkantha towns.
Another man was injured in a stabbing incident at Sabarkantha.
However, a Gujarat government spokesman, Bharat Pandya, told the BBC the rioting was a spontaneous Hindu backlash fuelled by widespread anger against Muslims.
Hindus are frustrated over the role of Muslims in the on-going violence in Indian-administered Kashmir and other parts of India," he said.
But Dr Chenoy said it was obvious that the Muslim community and its commercial interests had clearly already been singled out.
Aside from establishments that were immediately identifiable as Muslim, Muslim-owned shops with Hindu-sounding names were destroyed by the mobs, he said.
He also noted the violence in Ahmedabad erupted just one day after the attack on the train, which left 58 Hindus dead.
"It's not possible to identify Muslim shops with Hindu names within 24 hours and this suggests the meticulous planning of the attackers," Dr Chenoy said.
He also said that rioters arrived at the scene equipped with mobile phones and supplies of bottled water, and brought in trucks to take away looted goods.
None of this would have been possible, he said, without prior planning.
The Sahmat report, compiled after a fact-finding tour of Gujarat, also said displaced Muslims were living in appalling conditions in state-run relief camps.
Dr Chenoy said there was a scarcity of blankets and clothes and a lack of adequate medical help.
He also alleged that audio cassettes of cries and howls were sometimes played at night on loudspeakers to frighten the refugees.
The report said that trucks carrying relief goods were being stopped from entering the camps on the grounds that they might be carrying arms for Muslims.
But the government justified this action saying it was necessary to ensure security.
Government spokesman Mr Pandya told the BBC that the state was extending all possible help to the people in the camps.
The Gujarat Riots - Who Started It All? Page #: 1 - 2
Indian Muslims Index