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Don’t Forget Gujarat-2002 Or Delhi-1984 Punishing communal violence

By Praful Bidwai

After President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to Parliament on behalf of the new government, many people seem to have convinced themselves that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is committed to adopting a “moderate”, rather than hardline Hindutva, stance; some like Congress MP Shashi Tharoor predict that he’ll inevitably evolve into an altogether new person: a liberal “Modi 2.0” who believes in inclusion and reaching out to his opponents.

Some of these commentators point to Mr Mukherjee’s announcement of a “national plan”, to be drawn up in consultation with the states, to prevent and control communal violence, and his reference to the religious minorities’ welfare. They also highlight the fact that Mr Modi did break his silence on the targeted lynching of a young Muslim professional in Pune by a Hindutva mob.

Many plead that Mr Modi must be treated leniently as someone who has put behind himself the butchery of more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002; even if he was constructively responsible for it, that “one-off” error must be forgiven 12 years on; we must learn to live with, and even love, the “new” Narendra Modi—just as millions of ordinary Gujaratis have done, as have former Modi critics in the business world, like HDFC’s Deepak Parekh.

This prescription is based on lazy thinking and a naïve understanding of President Mukherjee’s address. Announcing plans to control communal violence is nothing new. Many governments have done it both before and after the National Commission on Minorities Act 1992 was passed. In 2005 too, the government adopted a 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities, which recognises the minorities’ special vulnerability to violence.

The Plan’s last three points deal with “prevention of communal incidents”, speedy prosecution of cases of such violence, and adequate rehabilitation for its victims. Mr Modi has not yet spelt out what his own plan is—despite the stigma he carries from the post-Godhra riots. So we must not be lured into believing that his attitude to communal violence has undergone a sea change.
The plain truth is that Mr Modi refuses to express remorse for the Gujarat violence. He is yet to get a clean chit from the courts for his role in it. The Zakia Jaffri appeal is yet to be decided by the Gujarat High Court, leave alone the Supreme Court. The National Human Rights Commission held in 2002 that “there was a comprehensive failure … to protect the Constitutional rights” of Gujarat’s citizens.
The Supreme Court too indicted the Modi government in 2003-04 for failure to “observe its Raj Dharma” and accused it of criminal negligence: “The Neros in Gujarat fiddled as Gujarat burned”. It transferred some of the Gujarat cases to Maharashtra for investigation and trial. Revealingly, the conviction rate in these was 39 percent, nearly eight times higher that in the cases tried in Gujarat.
So while it is futile and churlish to deny that Mr Modi was elected India’s Prime Minister in a basically free and fair election, it doesn’t follow that we should abandon the perfectly lawful and reasonable demand for bringing the culprits of the Gujarat carnage to justice. If Mr Modi is found to have been complicit in it, he must be exemplarily punished.

The 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide applies to Gujarat. The Convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, including killing its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to them, and inflicting on them “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction…”, etc.

Gen Augusto Pinochet was indicted by a Spanish magistrate 25 years after staging a bloody coup against Salvador Allende and perpetrating gross human rights violations in his native Chile. He was detained in London for one-and-a-half years, and sent home for trial during the course of which he died before being convicted. There’s no time-bar on a mass-murder trial.

More than 40 Indian and international citizens’ enquiries have extensively documented that the post-Godhra Gujarat violence was pre-planned and conducted with the full complicity and encouragement of the Modi government. To cover it up and shield the culprits, state functionaries manipulated evidence, instituted bogus cases, and even organised fake encounters.

A number of mass killings and rapes took place in places like Naroda-Patiya, Best Bakery, and Gulberg Society as the police refused to intervene—often under instructions from above. The Gujarat High Court convicted minister Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi for the Naroda genocide.
In a “sting-operation” interview with Tehelka, Bajrangi later confessed: “I am telling you if Narendra-bhai had not been there, we would have never come out… it’s all his handiwork……. For, if he gave instructions to police, they would screw our happiness….. Absolutely, they had total control over the entire city… in entire Gujarat…
“If I did not have the support of Narendra-bhai, we would not have been able to avenge Godhra… He had great influence…..So much so that police couldn’t even dare to speak, the guns were lying by the side, using them was out of question… Then he posted a judge called Akshay Mehta…. He neither saw the file or anything….. He just said granted…. We were free…”
This is not to deny that mass killings occurred under Congress rule too, like the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, and anti-Muslim violence in Nellie, Bhagalpur, Bhiwandi and Mumbai. These must be condemned and their culprits punished—a long-standing civil society demand.

The 1984 violence was the worst of these. Yet, as the outstanding scholar-activist Jairus Banaji pointed out in a talk last February, no “genocidal consensus” got consolidated in Delhi. The city went into a shock, and the violence soon stopped. In Gujarat, a “genocidal consensus” stabilised; the killing went on for many weeks. To this day, there isn’t “the slightest trace of remorse” for this among millions of Gujaratis. On the contrary, there is an attempt to turn Mr Modi into a messiah of “development”.

There is a lesson here from fascism in Italy and Germany, where millions of people hero-worshipped Mussolini and Hitler and delighted in their terrible crimes, including the Holocaust. When Germany underwent superficial “de-Nazification” after the War, the Hitler supporters refused to express any remorse for their own complicity in the crimes.
German psychologists Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich explored this phenomenon in their classic, The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour (New York, Grove Press, 1975), using Freud’s ideas to explain the extended melancholia Germany experienced after the Holocaust.  The nation, they concluded, was unable (or unwilling) to mourn the loss of the Jews. 

Among the German people, there was no release of emotion, but a total deadening of human sensibilities. To be unable to mourn is to fail to discover what one has lost. As another great psychologist Robert Jay Lifton put in his Preface to the book, “to be unable to mourn is to be unable to enter into the great human cycle of death and birth—to be unable, that is, to ‘live again’.”

As Germany got preoccupied with rebuilding its economy, Hitler’s former admirers blamed the Fuehrer for everything (just a they had earlier blamed the Jews for everything) while erasing segments of their own life from memory, and psychologically impoverishing themselves.

It took decades, beginning with public expression of regret in 1970 by Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt (who fell on his knees in Warsaw to accept guilt for the suffering that Germany had imposed on Poland), before the deliberate forgetting began to abate. Central to the process was the role of public intellectuals like Nobel Prize-winning novelist Heinrich Boell, who acted as the nation’s conscience-keepers.

In Gujarat, the process hasn’t even begun. There are few public intellectuals in the state, barring exceptions like Achyut Yagnik and the late Mukul Sinha. Large numbers of gullible Gujaratis, under the influence of communalism, regional chauvinism, and paranoia about “terrorism”, have chosen to remain in a state of self-delusion and enthusiastically support Mr Modi.

Mr Modi has successfully spread that delusion nationwide through his massively corporate- and media-backed propaganda about Gujarat’s hyped-up “development” claims which paper over its middling-to-poor social indicators. Crucial here is his managerial style as a great doer and decider.

That delusion cannot last. Mr Modi will soon find that his promise to provide jobs to the 12 million people who enter the labour market annually cannot be delivered—certainly not through an ultra-capital-intensive Big Business-subservient model of growth, the only one he knows. Nor will be easy to restore dynamism and balance to the economy.

Mr Modi’s test will come soon as the mega-projects he’s pushing fail to fructify and the reality of ecological devastation wrought by predatory capitalism dawns upon the country.

Whatever happens to Mr Modi’s government, justice for the Gujarat carnage remains an imperative. We must never lose sight of it if we want a society based on the rule of law, accountability and compassion.

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