Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016
Secret History of Gujarat Happenings by Stingers and Whistle-blowers
Monday 26 December 2016, by
Gujarat Files—Anatomy of a Cover Up by Rana Ayyub, With an Introduction by Justice B.N. Srikrishna; Self-published; 2016; pages: 204; Price: Rs 295.
Gujarat—Behind the Curtain by R.B. Sreekumar, Indian Police Service [Retired]; Manas Publications, New Delhi; Rs 595.
Language evolves. Specially when defining violence. “Genocide” as a term came out of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution to eliminate Jews from the Germanic Fatherland. “Persecution” is when small Christian communities are harassed by the local majoritarian people. Ethnic cleansing is a planned forcible eviction of a weaker community by force or other means from their territorial habitat, and the eviction of Christians from the Islamic State, of Rohingyas from Myanmar and of Pandits from the Kashmir Valley are illustrative. An element of political will, if not direct physical involvement of the political leaders, is integral to the terms.
Since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of the Nazis and Imperial Army officers, it is also established that officers and troops cannot escape guilt. The Sikh community has been demanding for long that the October 31, 1984 violence against them be defined as genocide. No government, not the ones led by Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh of the Congress, the several coalitions led by V.P. Singh, Inder Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, and Deve Gowda, or the two BJP governments led by Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, had really taken any worthwhile action other than cutting a few fresh cheques, presuming that money was the best palliative for the victims or their survivors.
Money, alas, is not justice. Justice still eludes the victims, and the second or third generation of the survivors in cases such as the Sikh violence, which the Sikhs themselves describe as a Pogrom, and a Genocide.
But it is targeted violence against Muslims that really challenges the lexicon, and perhaps the idea of India and its democracy. Long before response to the Islamic State made Islamophobia so palpable in Eastern Europe and the United States, it has flourished in India, first as a derivative of the Partition in 1947, and then as a consequence of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s aggressive thrust for power following the dissolution of the Janata Party. Lal Krisna Advani’s rath yatra, the demolition of Babri Masjid under the benign gaze of a Congress Government in New Delhi, and the eventual installation of Atal Behari Vapayee have changed the political landscape of India. Several States in the central belt from Gujarat to Jharkhand, where the BJP has been in power almost from the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, sustain it in various ways.
Although the 2002 violence has caught the imagination of the people, even if it has not really shaken the conscience of the nation in a manner secular society had hoped it would, Gujarat’s first thrust with massive anti-Muslim violence was in 1969, capping an escalating political targeting of the religious minority. In the years from 1961 and 1971, there were 685 incidents of targeted violence in cities an towns, and 114 in villages. In a three-day conclave of the RSS, its then strongman M.S. Golwalkar called for a Hindu Rashtra. The next year, 1969, Gujarat recorded 578 riots with Ahmedabad as the epicentre. No one really knows how many people died, but popular memory speaks of more than 2000 killed. The Justice Reddy Judicial Commission unequivocally pinned the blame on the RSS. Its report in 1971 also indicted the police. Editor and activist Ajit Bhattacharjea said police inaction was not a matter of slackness but policy.
The 1969 violence was before the Internet age, or even real broadcast journalism. The 2002 violence was in the full gaze of television cameras, which recorded a sickening triumphalism of the mobs, and the absence of the police.
But TV cameras can record only so much. And eye-witnesses are not really open to be interviewed by anchors, or for that matter by Special Investigating Teams commissioned by the Supreme Court and Commissions of Enquiry ordered by the State Government. That the State Government was headed by a former RSS organiser and teacher Narendra Modi, now the Prime Minister of India, made it a forgone conclusion that little would come out of the probes. A decade-and-a-half later, the SIT has exonerated Modi of any wrong-doing, and subordinate courts have ensured that his Cabinet Minister, Maya Kodnani, convicted of conspiracy to mass murders, is out on bail, and perhaps will never have to pay for her crimes. Police officers held guilty are back in power. Modi is now the Prime Minister. Once banned from the United States after a concerted and effective fact-based campaign by the Coalition Against Genocide, Modi has been welcomed now with wide-stretched arms into the US sending non-resident Gujarati Indians into paroxysms of excited frenzy.
It is in this background that Rana Ayyub, a young Delhi and Mumbai-based magazine journalist, and R.B. Sreekumar, a Malayali officer of the Indian Police Service allotted to the Gujarat State cadre, emerge as major authors of an alternate narrative of religious strife and targeted mass violence in Gujarat against its Muslim population. Their respective books, the reporter’s diary published by Rana herself, and the police officer’s by a publishing house that some would call a Vanity group, are not a postmortem of the events as other works are wont to be. They reopen the entire case, and present, to the justice system, data on which it can act, if it so wants. If indeed the courts act at some future date, Modi and many others can find themselves in jail as accessories before, during and after the mass murders deserving of the punishment that the Penal codes prescribe.
It remains a moot question if that Judgement Day will ever come. The Congress was in power for ten years, a mere two years after the violence that was called a slur on Indian civilisation, a deviation from Raj Dharma. It did almost nothing. It failed to tell the courts of why the Army was not summoned, and what transpired between the Union and State governments. Many would say its inaction saved Modi and others from incarceration or worse. Ironically, its motives of not angering the Hindu majority by acting against Modi did not work.
Sreekumar, whose promotions in his service cadre were repeatedly blocked—he was given the rank of Director General by the courts after his retirement—was, as chief of intelligence, an insider, an eye-witness to important meetings and critical files. He notes that after the burning at the Godhra railway station of coaches of a train returning from Ayodhya with karsevaks of the Ram temple movement, Chief Minister Modi issued a warning in an unequivocal language to those responsible for killing the karsevaks on February 28, 2002, saying, Ï want to assure the people that Gujarat will not tolerate any such incident. The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams, thinks of committing a heinous crime like this. “And then in the State assembly, Modi went a step further and declared his government ‘is firm to take symbolic steps and to punish in such a way that such an incident may not repeat in the future’.” Sreekumar concludes that “this assurance-cum-threat by the chief executive of the State had ingredients of illegality and indication of action that could not be through official organs such as the police and bureau-cracy..”; what the police could not do, they would allow non-state actors to do. For three days, almost, the killers of the Sangh Parivar did just that.
Sreeekumar’s book is not a sophisticated one, and could do with some professional expertise in editing, but it makes chilling document of a State gone berserk, bending rules and browbeating honest officials into acquiescing to its diktat, and the devious means in which it ensured that well-armed and highly motivated thugs had their way in the city of Ahmedabad and the State at large. There are no preventives and solutions. The system and the administrative superstructure have been exposed to be fatally weak and flawed. There are a large number of officers willing to do the bidding of the political masters, or Master in the singular, to avoid punishment or, more often, hooding to be rewarded for this service.
One sees it happen like a nightmare-in-a-loop now in New Delhi.
It is Rana Ayyub that one salutes as a fellow reporter. She investigated the violence in 2010, long after the events of 2002, but the inherent risk and threat to her own life she faced would be no less than any combat reporter covering a shooting war in one of the hotspots of the world. Justice Srikrishna, author of the monumental report on the 1992-93 violence against Muslims in Mumbai [after a series blasts following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya left many dead in the city], in his introductory note seems to fully approve of Rana’s methods of hidden body cameras and tape recorders, but he too is stunned at the disclosures. He, like us readers, would want the governments of the day to take action.
Rana’s methodology, which one would not want to recommend that anyone follow as a do-it-yourself thriller, is an integral component of the unearthing of undisclosed narratives of the political and administrative surrender to the Sangh in Gujarat.
Her investigations of telephone call records in the encounter killing of a Muslim youth Sohrabuddin sent the State Home Minister, Amit Shah, to jail. Shah is today the head of the BJP and with Modi one of the two real power-centres in India at this point of time.
It would be difficult to ace this achievement. Rana did, posing as a Hindu researcher in Ahmedabad. It is a fraught situation, in retros-pect. At that time, she must be living on the edge every moment, expecting her cover to be blown, as they say in spy novels.
The book feels and reads like a typescript of a string of conversations and grand confessions of men so visibly showing off that nationalism and religious patriotism. Social psychologists and public philosophers, such as Ashish Nandy and Shiv Vishwanathan, may perhaps read the conversations and explain the psychology of these people, culprits many of them to heinous conspiracies, and perhaps the faultlines in contemporary India and its governance.
Rana Ayyub puts the raw material on the plate. One hopes she has kept the tapes in a safe place and has put their sound-files on the Internet’s public domain from where they will not be erased by the powers that be. In this, it is much like the Wikileaks. It is powerful stuff if it is used to bring people to account, and perhaps to judgement.
To students of history, or of the post-truth Indian society as many have called it in a straight-faced sarcasm, there is a sense of déjà vu. We have heard such bravado from those who had something to do with the violence of 1984, or of every successive pogrom since then. It is perhaps for the first time that authenticated, and cross-linked and substantiated evidence of this nature emerges.
Perhaps if Rana, Sreekumar, and some of the other honest police officers and civilians—who have dared the Modi regime—were to collaborate in pooled research, the world would see the eventually simple mechanism of how a political force in power capitalised on one crime and effectively and in an exemplary manner punished an entire people with overwhelming extra-constitutional force by non-state actors and state impunity.
The author is a senior journalist, human rights activist and member of the National Integration Council. He can be contacted at e-mail: john.dayal[at]gmail.com