Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling? —BERTRAND RUSSELL, BRITISH PHILOSOPHER AND PEACE ACTIVIST
I conclude this account of my six years in the Home Ministry by turning to an event—rather, two inter-related events—that has figured most prominently in the sustained campaign, conducted both nationally and internationally, to malign my party, its ideology and the Vajpayee government’s six years in office. I am referring to the communal violence in Gujarat, both in its Godhra and post-Godhra phases, in February-March 2002. I have repeatedly stated that both events were ‘indefensible’ and ‘a blot on my government’. I was all the more distressed by them because they blemished the Vajpayee government’s widely appreciated record, until then, of having drastically brought down the number of incidents of communal violence in the country.
After the unfortunate happenings in Gujarat, the Congress and its pseudo-secular supporters took the lead in a sustained campaign against my party by propagating, essentially, three lies, which are still in circulation. The first lie is that the post-Godhra violence was a pre-meditated statesponsored genocide of Muslims. The second is that the BJP-led government at the Centre did nothing while Gujarat was burning. Thirdly, that the carnage in Godhra, due to the gutting of two compartments of Sabarmati Express, was accidental—or, worse still, self-inflicted. I deem it to be my duty to nail all the three lies.
Speaking in a debate in the Lok Sabha on 30 April 2002, the Congress President described the Gujarat violence as ‘genocide’ and said, ‘…but ultimately truth will prevail’. The truth, as contained in official information, and revealed by her own UPA government, was as follows. The religion-wise break-up of those killed was: Muslims 790 and Hindus 254. In addition, 223 people were reported missing. I accept that the unofficial death toll might have been higher. But can a tragic episode of this kind, in which the number of Hindus killed was by no means insignificant, be termed ‘genocide’ of Muslims? During the debate itself, Prime Minister Vajpayee had cautioned her against such casual usage of a highly loaded term. But since Sonia Gandhi had used it, it gained wide currency and was employed by forces inimical to our country to malign not only our government but also Gujarat and India.
It is also worth emphasising that over 200 rioters were killed in dozens of incidents of police firing in Ahmedabad, Baroda and other places in Gujarat. Nearly 10,000 rounds of bullets were fired by the police. In the initial days, the police made preventive arrests of nearly 18,000 Hindus, as against 3,800 Muslims. Does this speak of a state-managed pogrom of Muslims, with the state’s security apparatus remaining inactive?
DID THE NDA GOVERNMENT TURN A BLIND EYE?
Regarding the charge that the Centre turned a blind eye while violence was raging in Gujarat, I let the following facts speak for themselves. Within hours of the massacre in Godhra on 27 February, the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was deployed both in Godhra and Ahmedabad and a red alert was issued immediately. The very next day, the state government requested the Centre to send the Army. It also requested for armed police reinforcements from neighbouring states. The same night, Prime Minister Vajpayee dispatched Defence Minister George Fernandes to Ahmedabad, where the latter discussed with Chief Minister Narendra Modi details about the deployment of the Army. By the early morning hours of 1 March, plane-loads of Army personnel arrived, and, before noon, their deployment at sensitive points started. The Army staged fl ag marches in all the violence-hit areas of Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Baroda without any delay. When riots did not abate, the state government gave orders for shoot-at-sight throughout Gujarat.Within three days of the violence erupting outside Godhra, I visited the state and this is what the media reported. Advani Reviews Gujarat Situation; Asks Govt to be Tough
Union Home Minister L.K. Advani on Sunday said, ‘We will not allow any kind of communal tension.’ He added that the mob attack at Godhra and subsequent violence has blotted his party’s four-year record of having provided a ‘communal tension-free’ government. He asserted that the government would give top-most priority to restore communal harmony…. The home minister held meetings with Chief Minister Narendra Modi and senior civil, police and military officials and visited the Civil Hospital and affected areas of Bapunagar, Naroda and Meghaninagar. He said that the government had three primary responsibilities regarding the Godhra mayhem and subsequent spread of violence in the state. ‘First, we have to arrest the guilty, second, to prevent recurrence of any kind of violence and third, to ensure peace and security to every citizen and community.’ Advani also visited the area where former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jaffrey and 19 members of his family were charred to death. He expressed condolences to the members of the bereaved family.
In New Delhi, the previous evening, I had attended a meeting of prominent Opposition leaders, convened by the Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Gujarat. Concerned over the possibility of violence spreading to other parts of the country, both Atalji and I felt that the meeting should be used to demonstrate the nation’s resolve, rising above party lines, to maintain communal peace and harmony. Accordingly, after the Prime Minister’s assurance that the Centre would deal with the situation in Gujarat firmly, we requested Opposition leaders to join us in issuing an appeal to countrymen to preserve peace and promote brotherhood and unity at all costs. Among those who signed the appeal, besides Atalji and myself, were former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, Sonia Gandhi, BJP President Jana Krishnamurthy, CPI(M) General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.Contrary to our opponents’ propaganda, the whole of Gujarat was not engulfed by riots. The combined efforts of the Centre and the state government helped in combating violence to a limited part of the state. No less important is the fact that the Centre took effective steps to ensure that it did not spill over to other states.
On 4 April 2002, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Gujarat. At the Shah Alam relief camp in Ahmedabad, where nearly 8,000 riot-affected Muslims had been given shelter, he said, ‘You are not alone at this time of crisis, we all are with you. The entire country is with you…. Apne hi desh mein refugee ho jana, yeh dil ko cheerane wali baat hai. (Becoming refugees in one’s own country is heart wrenching.) While what happened in Godhra was condemnable, what followed in other parts of the state must also be deplored.’ He lamented that India’s standing in the comity of nations had been badly affected by the violence in Gujarat. ‘With what face, I do not know, I will go abroad after what all has happened here. Yeh paagalpan band hona chahiye. (This madness must stop.)’
Later in April, in the parliamentary debate, I said, ‘I am a sad man as I participate in this debate. Our government’s clean and proud record of riot-free governance for the past four years has been sullied. When I look at what has happened in Gujarat in its totality, I cannot but say that both Godhra and post-Godhra violence is condemnable and shameful. All the post-Godhra incidents that have been mentioned by honourable members in the House—be it Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, Best Bakery in Baroda, Sardarpura in Mehsana, or others—are reprehensible. Godhra may explain what happened after that, but Godhra cannot justify either Naroda Patiya or Mehsana or any other killing. I will go so far as to say that in a law-governed society, even revenge of a wrongdoer can have no justification. But revenge against an innocent person? How can it be justified? Whether the victim is a Hindu or a Muslim, there can be no place for revenge in a civilised society. It can only be deemed as barbaric.’
I continued, ‘I admit that there must have been some lapses somewhere, in administration, in the functioning of the police, etc. But to charge that the post-Godhra incidents were managed by the government itself, that it was a deliberate carnage, state-engineered mayhem and state-engineered genocide…this, I am afraid, is like providing weapons to the enemies of India to assault our nation.’ Thereafter, congratulating Omar Abdullah, a minister in our government and leader of the National Conference (which was then a constituent of the NDA), for his excellent and impassioned speech that he had made earlier in the debate, I strongly endorsed an appeal that he had made: ‘We should not only be scoring points but we should give a direction to the country.’
MY INTERVENTIONS TO SAVE INNOCENT LIVES
Of the many interventions to save innocent lives that I made during that distressing period of communal bloodletting in Gujarat, I shall recall two here. One day I received a call from Najma Heptulla, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. ‘Akbar, my husband, wants to talk to you urgently about an SOS from some Muslim merchants in Ahmedabad,’ she said. Akbar told me that the traders of Bohra Bazaar had approached him to urgently contact someone in the government to save them from an imminent attack from armed men in a nearby Hindu basti. I immediately rang up Chief Minister Modi and asked him to take necessary steps to provide protection to the needy. Modi called me back the next day to say that no untoward incident took place and potential miscreants were arrested. After the return of normalcy, a delegation of traders from Bohra Bazaar, along with Akbar, met me in Delhi to express their appreciation and gratitude for the timely steps taken by the Central and state governments.
In another such incident, I received a call one day from Somnath Chatterjee, a veteran parliamentarian of the CPI (M), who later became the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. ‘Advaniji, I want to speak to you about an urgent matter,’ he said in a tone that immediately conveyed to me his concern and urgency. ‘My colleagues in the CPI(M) unit of Bhavnagar phoned me just now to say that a prominent madarasa in that town has been surrounded by a Hindu mob, which is planning to set it on fire. There are a large number of young students and maulvis inside the madarasa. Please do something to stop this.’ I immediately spoke to both Modi in Ahmedabad and my own party leaders in Bhavnagar, instructing them to do everything necessary to prevent the attack and defuse the situation. I felt relieved to learn, later, that nothing untoward had happened. In one of my subsequent visits to Bhavnagar, the local CPI(M) activists and maulvis called on me and expressed their thanks. ‘We only did our duty,’ I told them. Some months later, Chatterjee himself called me one day and said, ‘Advaniji, I am calling from Ahmedabad. My party colleagues from Bhavnagar are here and they are telling me, “We want to thank you profusely. But for your timely intervention, many people in the madarasa would have been burnt to death.” I told them, “Why are you thanking me? You should thank Advaniji for this”.’
I am recalling all this not out of pride, but humility. Whatever I did was out of a sense of duty. I carry the pain that comes with the realisation that, in spite of our government’s commitment to the ideal of a riotfree India, hundreds of innocent lives were lost in the fire of communal hatred. It does not matter whether they were Hindus or Muslims. They were all Indians.
Nevertheless, I would like fair-minded people to contrast all that I have narrated above with the anti-Sikh carnage in Delhi and other places in North India in the days following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. During the first three days of mayhem, there was not a single policeman to be seen on Delhi roads. There was not even a single instance of lathi charge. Not only that, even the motorcade of President Zail Singh was stoned when he visited the hospital, where the slain Prime Minister’s body was kept. In spite of specific, urgent and personal requests made to the then Home Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, on the very first day, the Army was deployed only on the evening of 3 November. On the occasion of his mother’s birth anniversary, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said: ‘Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.’* It took Sonia Gandhi fourteen years to express regrets for the tragic happenings in 1984.
I would also like people with an impartial and unprejudiced approach to contrast the conduct of the Central and state governments in 2002 with that of the Congress governments in New Delhi and Gandhinagar in the numerous previous instances of communal violence in Gujarat. The state has a long history of communal riots. Communal frenzy in the past always took a far longer time to return to normalcy. The 1969 riots in Ahmedabad continued much longer than in 2002, and claimed many more lives. The city remained under curfew for nearly two months. Communal disturbances in many parts of the state in 1985 continued for more than five months, with Godhra reeling under curfew for almost a year.
Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka,When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath, Lotus, 2007. The book mentions my role in the appointment of the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission in May 2000 to inquire once again into the 1984 carnage. The Commission submitted its report in February 2005, but the Action Taken Report (ATR) prepared by the UPA government drew a howl of protest from all quarters, since it was rightly dubbed as a ‘No Action Taken Report’. The book again mentions my role, along with that of the leaders of other non-Congress parties, in forcing the government to review its ATR, ask at least one Central minister implicated in the riots to resign, and get Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to tender an apology to the Sikh community.
In September 2004, the UPA government—to be more precise, the Ministry of Railways headed by Laloo Prasad Yadav—appointed the U.C. Banerjee committee to probe the Godhra train fire. In fact, as subsequently ruled by the Gujarat High Court, its constitution was illegal; it was in violation of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, which bars the setting up of separate commissions by state and Central governments to probe a matter of public importance. The Shah-Nanavati Commission, appointed by the state government, had already been investigating both Godhra and post-Godhra violence. In October 2005, when Yadav’s party (Rashtriya Janata Dal) was looking certain to lose the assembly elections in Bihar, the Banerjee Committee gave its report stating that the inferno in Godhra was ‘accidental’. Some critics of the BJP have even insinuated that the kar sevaks, who were charred in the train, were themselves responsible for the fire, so that the incident could be used as a pretext for the post-Godhra violence elsewhere in the state. All I can say about these theories is that they are as fiendish and macabre as the incident itself.
NARENDRA MODI: A VICTIM OF VILIFICATION CAMPAIGN
I have often been criticised for stoutly rejecting the demand for Modi’s resignation. This demand was raised within days of the communal violence breaking out in Gujarat, and continued for months and years thereafter. Some of our own allies in the NDA wanted Modi to resign. There was also strong and sustained pressure from certain quarters on Prime Minister Vajpayee, urging him to ask Modi to step down. I resisted this move, including at some very critical junctures.
My reasoning was this, and I expressed it elaborately in the Rajya Sabha on 6 May 2002: ‘We should look for a real solution to the situation in the state, and removing Chief Minister Modi is not a solution. There has been a sustained campaign against him, which is not correct. It is also not correct or proper to allege, as Leader of the Opposition Dr. Manmohan Singh has done, that there is gross communalisation of Gujarat police. I plead with everyone not to make such sweeping charges against the police force. There are some shortcomings and I am aware of them, but let us not forget that, in Modi’s government, the police force saved a large number of Muslims during the riots.’
I also resisted proposals for Modi’s resignation made inside party forums. I am happy that my confidence in him has been fully vindicated by subsequent developments. His Chief Ministership, between 2002–07, was characterised by the fact that there was not a single communal riot in Gujarat, not a single incident of terrorism, and not a single hour of curfew imposed anywhere in the state in those five years. Gujarat made spectacular progress in many areas of social and economic progress during this period, attracting huge amounts of domestic and foreign investment, and emerging as one of the most developed states in the country. But what has given me special satisfaction is that Modi has brought down political and bureaucratic corruption in a way that even his critics have applauded. Needless to add, people of all castes and communities in Gujarat have benefitted from this commitment to security, development and clean administration.
A proof of all this was the renewed mandate, with a resounding majority, that the BJP won in the assembly elections in Gujarat held in December 2007. The Congress and its pseudo-secular supporters had sought to convert these elections into some kind of a national referendum on ‘communalism vs secularism’. Needless to say, they failed miserably in their plans. What is worse, they seem to be unwilling to do honest introspection and draw the just conclusions from their defeat. Modi’s re-election has highlighted several lessons which are relevant not only for Gujarat but for the whole country. He has disproved the conventional wisdom that focus on good governance does not make good politics. He has dispelled the notion that elections cannot be won on a development plank. The BJP in Gujarat has also invalidated the belief that elections can be won only by appealing to people’s caste and community sentiments. Furthermore, unlike in CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal, the BJP in Gujarat has demonstrated that a renewed mandate can be won without all recourse to electoral malpractices.
I consider the outcome of the Gujarat polls significant for another reason. It showed how a leader with integrity, courage and competence could count on people’s support to beat back a personalised campaign of vilification. I cannot think of any other leader in Indian politics in the past sixty years who was as viciously, consistently and persistently maligned, both nationally and internationally, as Modi had been since 2002. Sonia Gandhi even went to the extent of calling him ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death). I am happy that the people of Gujarat have given a fitting reply to the practitioners of this kind of toxic politics. State assembly elections are quite frequent in our country, but rarely does the people’s verdict in a particular state become a ‘turning point’ in national politics. I have no doubt that my party’s spectacular victory in Gujarat would indeed become a turning point because it signals the BJP’s resurgence as the frontrunner in the next parliamentary elections.
― From ‘My Country My Life’