This is in the nature of an Open F.I.R. (First Information Report), a technique borrowed from the Indian Police. (It’s true what the agony uncles say, there’s some good in everyone.) An Open F.I.R. is a Work in Progress, which allows the police to keep adding new suspects (under the sub-heading ‘& Others’) to old case-files. In that spirit, this document is offered as a preliminary dispatch.
THE GENOCIDE IN GUJARAT
Obscenity One: In which the Government sponsors genocide.
In the state of Gujarat, there was genocide against the Muslim community in 2002. I use the word genocide advisedly, and in keeping with its definition contained in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The genocide began as collective punishment for an unsolved crime – the burning of a railway coach in which fifty-three Hindu pilgrims were burned to death. In a carefully planned orgy of supposed retaliation, more than one thousand Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight by squads of armed killers, organized by fascist militias, and backed by the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Gujarat government led by the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Muslim women were gang-raped and burned alive. Muslim shops, Muslim businesses, and Muslim shrines and mosques were systematically destroyed. One hundred and fifty thousand people were driven from their homes. All this was widely reported in the national media.
Obscenity two: In which democracy triumphs.
Soon after the genocide, there was a State election. Narendra Modi who presided over the genocide was voted back to power for a second term.
Obscenity three: in which the killers have their say.
Towards the end of Modi’s second term as Chief Minister, the Indian newsmagazine Tehelka did a sting operation in which several of the killers were captured on camera boasting about their crimes and detailing the ways in which they were supported by Modi and his administration. The sting was broadcast on a national news channel.
This is Babu Bajrangi, one of the major lynchpins of the Gujarat genocide, recorded on camera:
‘We didn’t spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire…hacked, burned, set on fire… we believe in setting them on fire because these bastards don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it…I have just one last wish…let me be sentenced to death…I don’t care if I’m hanged …just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs [seven or eight hundred thousand] of these people stay …I will finish them off …let a few more of them die …at least twenty-five thousand to fifty thousand should die.’
Babu Bajrangi continues to have the blessings of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the protection of the police, and the love of his people. He continues to work and prosper as a free man in Gujarat.
In another gruesome incident, Ehsan Jaffri, the Congress politician and poet who had made the mistake of campaigning against Modi in the Rajkot elections, was publicly butchered in Gulbarg Society, a housing society in Ahmedabad. More than forty others were killed with him. Several women were gang-raped before they were killed. In the words of Mangilal Jain:
‘Five people held him, then someone struck him with a sword … chopped off his hand, then his legs … then everything else …[and] after cutting him to pieces, they put him on the wood they’d piled and set him on fire. Burned him alive.’
Obscenity four: In which democracy triumphs again.
The overwhelming public reaction to the Tehelka sting was not outrage, but suspicion about its timing. Many believed that the exposé (like the genocide itself ) would help Modi to rally the Hindu vote. Some even believed, quite outlandishly, that Modi had engineered the sting.
Whatever the reasons, he did win the elections again and is now Chief Minister for a third term.
OBSCENITY FIVE: In which the police lend a hand.
While the carnage raged, the Gujarat police stood by and watched. Several victims testified that the police actually helped the killers. The Ahmedabad Commissioner of Police, P.C. Pandey for example, was kind enough to visit Gulbarg Society while the lynch mob massed before the attack. He did nothing. After Modi was re-elected, Pandey was promoted and made Gujarat’s Director General of Police.
The police also found other ways to help. When survivors went to the police to file reports, the police would record their statements inaccurately or refuse to record the names of the perpetrators. In several cases, when survivors had seen members of their families being killed (and burned alive so their bodies could not be found), the police would refuse to register cases of murder.
OBSCENITY SIX: In which procedure is everything.
In a democracy, for impunity after genocide, Procedure is everything. In the case of several massacres, the public prosecutors the Gujarat government appointed had actually already appeared as counsel for the accused. Several of them belonged to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is the ideological heart, the holding company of the BJP and its militias. Or to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and were openly hostile to those they were meant to represent.
OBSCENITY SEVEN: In which we see that Hindu fascism’s roots are wide and deep.
The RSS was founded in 1925. By the 1930s, its founder, Dr K.B. Hedgewar, a fan of Benito Mussolini, had begun to model it overtly along the lines of Italian fascism. Hitler, too, was and is an inspirational figure. Here are some excerpts from the RSS bible, We, or, Our Nationhood Defined by M.S. Golwalker, who succeeded Dr Hedgewar as head of the RSS in 1940:
Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening.
In Hindustan, land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation….
All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots…. The foreign races in Hindustan…may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment–not even citizen’s rights.
To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races–the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here …a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.
By the year 2000, the RSS had more than forty-five thousand shakhas (branches) and an army of seven million swayamsevaks (volunteers) preaching its doctrine across India. They include India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former home minister and current leader of the opposition L.K. Advani, and, of course, the three times Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. It also includes senior people in the media, the police, the army, the intelligence agencies, the judiciary and the administrative services who are informal devotees of Hindutva – the RSS ideology.
OBSCENITY EIGHT: Some industrialists, a newspaper editor, a little Bollywood and some Schollywood.
It’s not surprising that very little of all this makes it into the version of the New India currently on the market. That’s because what is on sale is what Robert Jay Lifton calls a ‘counterfeit universe’. In this universe, systemic horrors are converted into temporary lapses, attributable to flawed individuals, and a more ‘balanced’, happier world is presented in place of the more disturbed one. Those at the top of the food chain, those who have no reason to want to alter the status quo, are most likely to be the manufacturers of the ‘counterfeit universe’. Their job is to patrol the border, diffuse rage, delegitimize anger, and negotiate a ceasefire.
This is Shahrukh Khan’s (Bollywood superstar, heartthrob of millions) response to a question about Narendra Modi. ‘I don’t know him personally … I have no opinion,’ he says. ‘Personally they have never been unkind to me.’
Ramachandra Guha, liberal historian and founding member of the New India Foundation, advises us in his new book, India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, that to describe the BJP regime – in power both in Gujarat and at the centre during the 2002 genocide – as fascist would be to ‘overestimate its powers and to underestimate the democratic traditions of the Indian people’. To substantiate his point, Guha reminds us that in the 2004 general elections, the bjp alliance at the centre was voted out of office. ‘When was the last time a “fascist” regime permitted such an orderly transfer of power?’ he asks. He omits to mention that in the Gujarat state elections held soon after the genocide (which Guha calls ‘the Gujarat riots’) Narendra Modi was voted to power for a second term and then, five years later, for a third term. So far, in Gujarat, there has been no transfer of power, ‘orderly’ or otherwise.
Editors and commentators in the ‘secular’ national press, having got over their outrage at the Gujarat genocide, now assess Modi’s administrative skills, which most of them are uniformly impressed by. Vir Sanghvi then editor of the Hindustan Times said, ‘Modi may be a mass murderer, but he’s our mass murderer,’ and went on to air his dilemmas about how to deal with a mass murderer who is also a ‘good chief minister’.
At the Vibrant Gujarat meeting in January 2009, the CEOs of India’s leading corporations including Ratan Tata, and Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), publicly backed Modi as India’s future prime minister.