It is difficult to come to terms with a judgment which holds 31 people guilty of conspiracy while exonerating the main conspirator. But we have a process in this country and the debate over the Godhra judgment will be resolved where it should be, in a higher court of appeal. In the meanwhile, we are once again being subjected to the kind of rhetoric that has led to widespread disgust with both the major political parties in the country. In the wake of the Godhra judgment, it is necessary to disregard and even dismiss the BJP’s triumphalism and Congress’ effrontery to focus on why we must not let the quest for justice in Gujarat be reduced to a game of accusations and counter-accusations played out in TV studios.
Let us first get the Congress out of the way. We were subjected to the ridiculous spectacle of the Rajya Sabha being adjourned because Jayanthi Natarajan was not around to second the Motion of Thanks to the President because she was busy offering sound bytes for TV on the Godhra verdict. She said, “In a political sense, whatever the judgment… the communal violence that erupted in Gujarat remained a blot on democracy. It is a blot on the record of Narendra Modi for which he will always have to answer to the people of the nation…(the judgment) does not take away from the fact that Modi and his government were responsible for the riots that took place post the train carnage.” This would have a ring of truth to it if the Congress had ever dared to address its own past. Replace Gujarat with Delhi, Narendra Modi with Rajiv Gandhi, and the train carnage with the assassination of Indira Gandhi in that statement, and you will see how appropriate it still sounds.
The BJP comes off even worse in claiming that the verdict has vindicated its stand that there was a ‘conspiracy’ behind the incident. But what is this a vindication of, and where does it leave the party? The BJP has made the claim the cornerstone of its defence of Narendra Modi and the organised massacre of Muslims that followed the Godhra deaths. But that Godhra was a conspiracy changes nothing, absolves Narendra Modi of nothing. The case against Modi has been made often enough in the past, but it needs to be reiterated because we are at the same time seeing a resurgence of the ‘good for business’ defence. As the years pass, his election victories in Gujarat and biennial Vibrant Gujarat melas have been cited as evidence that should absolve him of culpability in mass murder.
This failure to bring any ethical standards to what we seek from our economic growth is what is currently undermining the country. It is no coincidence that heads of the same corporate groups that are embroiled in the 2G scam have been seen time and again praising Narendra Modi. Corporates in India, like their brethren anywhere, have sprung no surprises: firms will do business in any way it is possible to do business. If corruption and greasing of palms is a way of getting ahead then they will do so, if endorsing a man who is culpable in acts of mass murder is needed they will do so. This cannot be seen as an endorsement of corruption or mass murder. We have begun to confuse categories when we see corporate endorsement as a virtue in itself. Yes, we need growth and we need to provide the environment for growth, but that environment must subscribe to certain constitutional values. Just because a certain environment is seen to be conducive for growth does not justify it.
In using this argument as a defence, the BJP, and by extension the manifold defenders of Modi, are subverting the very essence of India as a constitutional entity. There is no real parallel between Modi and Manmohan Singh, but since the BJP has been making much of its campaign against the PM, let us study their logic. When they criticise Manmohan Singh, what is it that they charge him with? For looking away while corporates and politicians subverted the law in collusion. That, at the very least, is a charge that even sympathisers cannot deny applies to Modi in much larger measure. He looked away from the murder and mayhem organised by his political associates and did nothing to ensure that his police force did its job. Manmohan may have only made corruption possible, Modi allowed mass murder. For the corruption, we have a JPC in place, for mass murder what parliamentary mechanisms have been set in motion?
In the end, we are left with the simple notion that irrespective of whether Godhra was a conspiracy or not, irrespective of what corporates say of him, irrespective of the number of times he gets an endorsement in Gujarat, Modi must answer to certain constitutional standards. And those standards do not excuse mass murder.