Mainstream, VOL L, No 39, September 15, 2012

Kuldip Nayar

Every time there is a conviction in the Gujarat riots case, I begin to hope that the day is not far when the real culprit, State Chief Minister Narendra Modi, will be brought to book. The 28-year-long sentence awarded to Maya Kodnani, who organised the massacre at Naroda-Patiya in Ahmedabad, makes me confident that justice can be delayed—the riots took place in 2002—but not denied. Modi lauded her role on the riots so much that he made her a Minister. But the Supreme Court’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) caught up with her crime even after the exoneration by the police which did its best to see that Kodnani’s “involvement does not come on the books”.
The question which nags me all the time is how to punish a Chief Minister who plans and executes the killing of his own people because they belong to a different religion. Some 2000 Muslims were killed, 95 at Naroda-Patiya alone. A similar point confronted me when after the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1984, more than 3000 Sikhs were killed in the national Capital, New Delhi. The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was responsible for blessing all that was plotted to kill the innocent. His infamous remark still haunts me: ‘When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.’
Both in Gujarat and Delhi, the pattern of killing and looting was the same: the public was instigated, the police was instructed to look the other way and the Army’s induction was intentionally delayed. Had there been the institution of Lokpal (ombudsman) in position, it would have probably stepped in to name the culprits, including Modi and Rajiv Gandhi. In the absence of any such remedy what do people, especially the victims, do to get justice? When the protector turns into a killer, there is no remedy for the protected.
In fact, both Gujarat and Delhi have raised a general question about the independence of the law and order machinery. The police is at the beck and call of the rulers and it does not function independently. The police reforms, recommended by the Dharma Vira Committee as far back as 1980, could have retrieved the situation to some extent. It would have meant transferring control of the police to a committee, including the Opposition Leader. But no State has been willing to implement the recommendations. In reality, there is a case for a federal police on the lines of America to pursue cases which transcend the States’ borders or those which fall under the category of segregation, discrimination and such other crimes. There is the famous case of Mississippi in America where the federal police broke the alliance between the local administration and politicians to bring the guilty to justice.
Since the States zealously guard their sway over the law and order machinery, it is difficult to imagine that they would agree to any federal force when New Delhi itself has got politicised. Coming to the minorities, the experience of Muslims in Gujarat and of Sikhs in Delhi bring out the truth that the rulers go to any extent to save their party members. They have different names but in real terms they are the party’s rough necks who have over the years become an instrument of tyranny in the hands of the political masters.

The real disturbing aspect is that more and more Hindus are getting contaminated by the RSS and its parivar. It is heartening to find that one member of the Bajrang Dal, the militant wing of the RSS, has been given life sentence in the Naroda-Patiya case. Still the bigger tragedy is that the majority community looks like turning its back on secularism which, it should realise, can undo India.
The BJP, which expects to win the 2014 elections, does not feel its responsibility in keeping the country safe from parochialism. True, the other national party, the Congress, has become a carbon copy of the BJP, but it still supports the secular ethos. The party’s stand is mostly opportunistic but it draws inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, not Guru Golwalkar. This may be the reason why the Congress, at times, takes a secular stand and confronts the forces which spew communalism.
I was, however, disappointed when the Congress Government neither acted against the Shiv Sena, particularly Raj Thackeray when he instigated the crowd at Mumbai in the name of national chauvinism. Nor did the government move against the Muslim fundamentalists who indulged in violence at Azad Maidan and killed two persons. I am told that the person who goaded the mob at the Maidan is a local Muslim Congress leader. Regretfully, both the Congress and BJP have come to believe that they would get more votes if they talked in terms of caste and community.
Had the Supreme Court not selected the nine cases of fake encounters out of many, no Maya Kodnani would have been punished. But there was no Supreme Court to intervene in the case of the Sikhs’ killings because the Rajiv Gandhi administration had cleaned the stains from the plate. No proof was left behind and the records were fudged. The entire massacre was orchestrated by the ruling Congress and executed according to a pre-prepared plan.
Thanks to young lawyer H.S. Phoolka who made a formidable case from the affidavits of victims. Even then his experience and those of the others who have tried to get justice is that even now the Congress Government is creating impediments at every step to block any persecution further. The conviction in Gujarat is an exception. At least there were still some records which helped the SIT to rebuild the case. But in Delhi, the Congress Government has effaced all evidence lest the guilty of the 1984 massacre could be traced.
There is yet another case of the government’s suppression. I am referring to the killing of 22 Muslim boys at Hashimpura in UP in 1987. The case has not moved from the lower court. The rioting in Assam too has been anti-Muslim. The lesson to be learnt from all these happenings is that the rule of law by itself does not mean anything unless the government is willing to follow it without fear or favour.
The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is