Now Narendra Modi has decided to fast for social harmony and brotherhood. In justification of this oxymoronic feat, he has written a letter to the citizens of Gujarat: ‘One thing is apparent from the Supreme Court’s judgment. The unhealthy environment created by the unfounded and false allegations made against me and [the] Government of Gujarat, after [the] 2002 riots, has come to an end… After 2002, Gujarat has not spared any effort to march towards peace, harmony and progress even amidst false propaganda, lies, conspiracies and allegations… Gujarat has experienced an unparalleled phase of peace, harmony and development in the last decade.’ It is a defence that reminds me of what Mani Shankar Aiyar recently said when I asked him about Rajiv Gandhi’s role during the 1984 Delhi riots. He said one must look at the subsequent record of the Rajiv administration in keeping Sikhs safe in the rest of India, even as Hindus were being killed by Sikhs in Punjab. Aiyar’s claim is stupid and misleading, both in conflating Sikh terrorists with the entire community and in absolving Rajiv Gandhi of any blame for the massacre while he sat around in Delhi and did nothing for two days. Incidentally, two days was exactly the span of inaction Modi allowed himself in Gujarat after the Godhra incident. In neither case do the subsequent years wipe out culpability for what happened over two days.
The need to mention these two figures, Narendra Modi and Rajiv Gandhi, is not born of some desire to balance the sins of the BJP and Congress, it is only to point out the obvious flaws in any such defence by subsequent achievement, whether offered in favour of Modi by right-wing ideologues and enthusiastic economists, or in favour of Rajiv Gandhi by a handful of loyalists flaunting ‘secular’ credentials. When Modi and his supporters talk of what happened in Gujarat, or Congressmen talk of the Delhi massacres, they prefer to avoid mentioning the two days that really matter. They do not want an examination of what in one case a chief minister and in the other a prime minister was doing when mobs murdered innocents on the streets of a state and national capital, respectively. They do not want an examination of the orders issued or lack thereof to the respective home ministers and police authorities. They point to the findings of a few inquiries chaired by judges looking for a sinecure after their retirement, and the changes of testimony by witnesses, poor and harried to begin with, who were subsequently threatened and coerced in the absence of any programme to support and resettle them. But they forget a basic truth invoked by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a moment of rare candour when he invoked ‘rajdharma’, which can only be translated as the duty of those in power.
It is this duty that Modi forgets in his letter: ‘These elements who could not tolerate any positive development of Gujarat have not left any stone unturned to defame Gujarat. It is difficult to say whether this campaign of defamation will stop even after the judgment of the Supreme Court.’ By the first part of his disingenuous argument, even Vajpayee was guilty of defamation. The second part of his argument is a lie; what the Supreme Court actually said was, ‘In cases monitored by this court, it is concerned with ensuring proper and honest performance of its duty by the investigating agency and not with the merits of the accusations [under] investigation, which are to be determined at the trial on the filing of the chargesheet in the competent court.’ Read it as you will, but clearly the accusations against Modi stand. They will stand even after the trial is over. In the same way that all the inquiry commissions do nothing to absolve the Congress and Rajiv Gandhi of the failure to observe their rajdharma, no court order can conceal the simple fact that Modi is directly answerable for the murders that took place in Gujarat in 2002.
It is true that violence has its own logic and can go out of hand, but that argument can be made only if there was an attempt by the State to control or limit the violence in the first place. That Narendra Modi and Rajiv Gandhi sat quietly for two days while violence unfolded around them is the best defence that can be made for them, and this is still enough to implicate them. The argument that remains is whether, covertly or overtly, they actually helped the violence take place, whether they encouraged their police force to stand aside and led mobs murder hundreds of people. There was never a chance to make that case against Rajiv. Beginning with the trial court, there is now a chance to make that case against Modi. But remember, even with the most favourable interpretation of his acts, he stands complicit in mass murder.