Chief minister Narendra Modi's gamble recently in pitching for elections, on the plea that peace and normalcy reign in Gujarat, is a challenge to India's time-tested principles of equal citizenship and non-partisan governance.
The chief minister who speaks of seeking a people's mandate for the restoration of Gujarat's pride has expressed no remorse over the loss of innocent lives, has shown little concern for the loss of dignity to over 1,20,000 persons and the destruction of Rs 5,000 crore worth of private property, and has rejected the demand that riot-affected victims from the worst-affected localities be provided alternative resettlement sites.
For the first time in post-Independence India's history, the state's partisan leanings were apparent when Mr Modi declared discriminatory amounts of compensation for the victims of the Godhra arson and the subsequent violence. Similarly, POTA was applied to the accused in Godhra and charges under the Act dropped only after a volley of protests.
Arguments of normality in general and the peaceful conclusion of the Jagannath rath yatra on July 12 in particular have been touted by Mr Modi and his compatriots to push for an early poll. The quality of peace ensured on July 12 was not the natural peace that reigns after immense tragedy when some remorse has been expressed or reconciliation effected.
The homes of the minority community living en route were searched and re-searched; dozens fled their homes certain of police firing in impatient reprisal if they stayed on. The atmosphere in Ahmedabad city, a few days before, when the mahant of a city temple found in possession of arms was arrested by the Ahmedabad police was illustrative of Gujarat's climate - cadres of trishul-wielding men roamed the streets in trucks, in the heart of minority-dominated areas.
Needless to say, this worked. Within two days, the police released the mahant found in possession of arms. And peace reigned in and normality returned to Ahmedabad. Peace has thus been coercively achieved in the state. In April 2002, the Ahmedabad collector's official figures for internally displaced persons because of the violence for the city alone were 66,000 and for the rest of the state, the administration admitted that 21,000 persons were displaced. Unofficial figures are much higher.
For these persons ousted from their homes, it was a judicial intervention alone (writ petition before the Gujarat high court by six relief camps) that ensured the registration of the camps, sufficient grain, medical facilities and drinking water from a reluctant state in early April.
Despite repeated assurances to the high court that the state government would not close down relief camps without adequate rehabilitation, over two dozen affidavits filed by camp managers and residents in a subsequent PIL filed in the HC reveal that from May 19 to June 15, in different parts of Ahmedabad and the state, 31 camps were coercively made to shut down, often under threat of non- payment of dues for rations or penal action.
The assurances made before the court, repeatedly by the government of Gujarat, thus run contrary to the actions of the state administration on the ground. As a result, though the government of Gujarat recognises just 13,482 refugees in the state (all of them in Ahmedabad) to whom foodgrains are provided, another 6,500 more persons continue to live in other camps in Ahmedabad though they have ceased to exist in official records. (Survey conducted for the PIL.)Two thousand more persons who, similarly, do not exist as displaced persons for the state, are even today located in camps in seven places in the state. As a result of the Gujarat government's reluctance to first acknowledge that refugees exist and thereafter feeding and rehabilitating them, many have returned to compromised existences.
In Mehsana district, the villages of Unjha and Raisan are out of bounds for refugees as are Paliyar in Gandhinagar district ('Amne Musal-manon nathin joyta - we do not want Muslims here' being the refrain); refugees from Por in Gandhinagar have returned only to face an economic boycott by the Patel-dominated village. Under such circumstances, with no comprehensive official data on rehabilitation efforts, with one crore Gujarati voters yet to receive voter identification, what guarantee is there that the elections will follow the textbook principles of fair and free?
Gujarat March 2002 has revealed levels of state complicity in violence directed at a section of the population more serious than the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984, or the anti-Muslim violence in 1992-93 in Mumbai. Every department of the state machinery was abused in Gujarat. Cabinet ministers influenced police behaviour in the matter of controlling violence by sitting in the state and city control rooms.
Despite the fact that over 2,000 persons have lost their lives in violence that does no Constitution-bound state within the Indian Union proud, senior ministers at the Centre have awarded a certificate of good governance to Mr Modi. Grounds enough for not simply a serious reappraisal of Mr Modi's poll requisition but for a rigorous scrutiny of the real state of affairs in Gujarat.
The author is co-editor of Communalism Combat
Courtesy: Communalism Combat
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