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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The locus of controversy over Mr. Modi’s remarks has shifted from the contents of his interview to the internal politics of a regional party of which the interviewer was a member. In the melee, there is danger of Mr. Modi’s remarks passing uncontested into history. The risk of dwelling on them any further is in giving them more column space, thereby adding to his original intent in giving the interview of gaining greater political acceptability for himself in his run up not so much for provincial elections due soon, but for national hustings soon thereafter. However, not to engage with them would be to have readers give him the benefit of the doubt.

While it is a truism that unless held guilty in a court of law, a person is to be taken as innocent, the problem with allowing Mr. Modi that status is that the evidence that could have been used in a court of law has in the years of his being at the helm been systematically removed or reworked. As a result even the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team has been unable to gain access to prosecutable evidence. While this should really have triggered a line of investigation into the ‘cover up’, as prompted by some courageous police officers in Gujarat, the SIT has taken Mr. Modi’s administration at its word. That is to give him more than his due.

Thankfully for history, the Amicus Curiae, also appointed by the SC, has a different story to tell. His differing take lends balance to the suspension of disbelief by Mr. Raghavan of SIT fame. Therefore, there is no reason to take Mr. Modi at his word in the interview. He cannot but be expected to defend his case in the manner he has. And yet, the content of the interview is chilling. Take for instance Mr. Modi’s exhortation: ‘think about how many Muslims were protected then! If they were to be killed systematically, who would have been spared today?’ In other words, Muslims, spared of a worse fate, should really be grateful! After all, he insists he stopped the ‘rioting’, stating that, ‘I think I managed to stop the rioting.’ In the same breath, he lets on: ‘I will not admit that I couldn’t.’ In other words, he is a saviour since he tried to stop the ‘riots’ but couldn’t!

Two points bear mention. Firstly, the use of the term, ‘riots’, suggests that the two communities were slugging it out. This is hardly likely in light of his version of the first 72 hours: ‘There hasn’t been even one police gun shot, no lathi charge… But, here people were arrested in advance.’ It bears investigation as to which ‘people’ were arrested. It can be surmised that these were of the minority. In effect, the minority was disarmed. Therefore, the question of a ‘riot’, and its two-sided implication, does not arise. Also, since he says there was not ‘even one police gun shot’, the rioters who should have been stopped in their tracks were instead handled with kid gloves. Had the besieged minority been rioting instead, as national statistics consistently bear out there would have been a deadly toll.

Secondly, this means that space was created for majoritarian supremacists to take center stage. He claims in self-vindication he gave ‘shoot at sight’ order to stop the ‘riots’. The numbers are already in the public domain as to who died in such firing. These were certainly not the ones later caught boasting in a Tehelka sting operation on their bravado.

Mr. Modi brings the abject state of affairs elsewhere to claim that his record is better on two counts: one is on prosecution and sentencing in Gujarat cases as against that meted out in the 1984 carnage against Sikhs; the second is on encounters. There is a difference between what happened in Gujarat and elsewhere. In the anti Sikh carnage in Delhi, there is no allegation of state complicity. As for encounters, in none of the other states were cover up stories fomented with a dual purpose: to embellish the image of the political head as a nationalist strongman, while at the same time tarnishing that of the minority as a subverted fifth column susceptible to infiltration by terrorists. In any case, instances elsewhere cannot legitimize what happens in Gujarat.

To tide over the controversy, the interviewer in a damage limitation exercise, has claimed: ‘I asked him questions that no one has.’ This obfuscates the fact that it was a tame interview amounting to image building for Mr. Modi. Take for instance the poser: ‘But they say you were in the control room.’ It is well known that the ministerial henchmen of Mr. Modi were assigned such duty including one who has served time behind bars subsequently in the false encounters case. Therefore such questions figuring in an interview damns its motives.

Finally, is the question of the military being called out timely. This increases in significance in light of the current day Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam in which the Assam government has been critical of the new procedures in place for getting the Army to react in internal crisis. The procedures date to the Vohra Committee report recommendations to the GOM in 2001. The cases of over resort to the military in the eighties and nineties had resulted in a hardening of the military’s position against intervening in such crisis. The military was hard pressed by its internal security commitments and over extended by simultaneous calls on it when in peace stations. The older rules that enabled the DC to call out the army in aid to civil authority had consequently been reframed. The current procedures call for such demands for military aid to be routed from the state to the home ministry and thereafter to the defence ministry. A decision is then taken. This can prove too late for victims as evident from the case in Assam lately. More importantly, delay results in deepening of divides with trans- generational effects. Clearly, there is a case to revisit the procedures, particularly since the CRPF that was expanded with the purpose of relieving the army from such duty is itself bogged down in Central India.

In the Gujarat case, the army that was then deployed at the borders in Op Parakram could not be made available in a real time frame. Clearly, the onus of stamping out fires then devolved on Mr. Modi. This gave Mr. Modi and his supporters the time they needed. Therefore even if we are to follow Mr. Modi’s advice, ‘The Supreme Court asked for an investigation to be conducted. We should trust that’; he still needs to answer for incompetence. Since his campaign rhetoric focuses on his competence, revealing Mr. Modi’s record is in order, the latest attempt at embellishment notwithstanding.

Mr. Modi has expressed a preference thus, ‘If Modi has sinned, then Modi should be hanged’. But his only reflects a medieval mindset that conjured up the ‘action-reaction’ thesis. Its implication for his fitness for his current office is for the voters of his state to decide on, but it certainly disqualifies him from aspiring to higher office. 

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