Acknowledgement, remorse, justice and reconciliation are the accepted steps required for collective healing when wounds of an indescribable nature have been inflicted on a whole population. In Gujarat, five years after independent India’s worst genocide, there has been little or no acknowledgement of the crimes and no question therefore of any expression of remorse from perpetrators and masterminds. Justice, except in a few isolated cases, dodges Gujarat’s survivors. It must therefore be a while before we talk of reconciliation.
In the midst of the struggle for reparation and justice, this year brings an electoral battle to the battered state. In past months, Chief Minister Modi has utilised most of his energies and much of the taxpayer’s money to sell the ‘normalcy’ jingle and the ‘vibrant Gujarat’ pipe dream. As the election environment draws out the inevitable scandals, the dissensions among his partymen, the aura around Modi appears a trifle less bright, a little less shining. Will Modi’s vibrant Gujarat hard sell meet the same fate as NDA’s ‘India shining’ mantra?
Electoral predictions apart, what is of real concern to CC and its wide readership is this: Will and can the issues of mass murder, mutilation and gender violence be issues that resonate in mainstream politics? Can the brazen remarks of a chief minister who scoffs his hatred at Muslims be publicly and rationally discussed, and then seriously rejected? Will issues of impunity to mass crime figure not just in party manifestos but action plans for governance? Will the rule of law and good governance be the stuff that the Gujarat 2007 state election campaign is made of? Will our candidates and political parties take the spirit, the core of the Indian Constitution, to the Gujarati people?
This could well be our very own pipe dream. Switch to nearby Maharashtra, where in 1992-1993, after the Babri Masjid demolition, a communal pogrom led by Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena ripped Bombay of its essence, its cosmopolitan fabric. Two years later, the perpetrators, the Shiv Sena-BJP romped home to a calculated electoral victory, riding high on hatred and division among the people. Two governments have since come to power, in 1999 and 2004, both ‘secular’, both a combination of the Congress (I) and the NCP, who promised punishment of the guilty but failed to deliver. It was under former Congress chief minister Sudhakarrao Naik that Bombay was allowed to burn.
In February 1998, Justice BN Srikrishna submitted his historic report on the Bombay violence, making detailed recommendations for punitive actions and remedial measures. Despite election promises in 1999 and again in 2004, these remain unfulfilled. Perpetrators have not been punished and memories of the pogrom lie buried. In stark contrast, the system has meted out harsh punishment if not speedy justice to those convicted of ‘involvement’ in various degrees in the serial blasts of 1993.
The harsh reality of discriminatory justice has raised its ugly head. While those responsible for bomb terror are labelled traitors and anti-nationals, and sent to the gallows, the perpetrators of home-bred mob terror escape censure and punitive action.
Similar or worse questions arise from Gujarat today. This issue of CC, Genocide’s Aftermath–Part II, which has also been put together by co-editor, Teesta Setalvad, analyses in detail the evidence placed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. Thousands of victim survivors braved threats and intimidation from a vindictive administration to place their affidavits on record. (In August 2004, victim survivors and members of citizens’ groups were assaulted and threatened by riot accused, Babu Bajrangi, in the premises of the circuit house where the commission sits.) The rare courage of two police officers has exposed the cynical nitty-gritty that shaped the orchestration of the genocide. The tenacity of groups like the Jan Sangharsh Manch in deconstructing the Godhra fire before the commission pokes serious holes in the barefaced lies behind the Godhra train burning. Today, more than ever, it appears that the incident was an accident and not an ‘ISI-inspired conspiracy’ as touted by former union home minister LK Advani and Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi.
Now, even as the Godhra fire can no longer be used to justify the post-Godhra massacres, 84 accused languish in Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati jail. Meanwhile, escaping the long arm of the law, perpetrators of the genocide, many with powerful political connections, roam free. Details of the illegal continued custody of those accused in the Godhra arson have been placed before our apex court for three years now. However, despite sincere efforts by legal action groups and counsel, these men have been denied bail.
The fact that 84 accused still remain in Gujarat’s jails five years after the incident, the fact that many of them are ill, one is blind; the fact that their families have been reduced to penury and indignity while the main accused and masterminds of the post-Godhra carnages not only roam free but rule Gujarat by action and word, raises the niggling, troublesome question once again.
Discriminatory justice. Can a discriminatory system of justice be viable in principle, given what our Constitution espouses? What does this reality mean in practical terms, given that today we also face the challenge of another kind of terror, internationally supported bomb terror? In the ultimate analysis, genuine secularism and constitutional governance must mean that issues of mass violence, accountability, transparency, impunity for mass murderers and government officials, are not merely the stuff of election campaigns but the basis on which the balance sheets of our public servants and representatives are drawn. Only then would we have made the transition from a purely electoral democracy to true constitutional democracy.