For five days from February 28, Ahmedabad, the city of Gandhiji's early experiment with non-violent politics, witnessed an unprecedented communal carnage. What made it unprecedented was that it was not a communal riot, the fury of which Ahmedabadis had in ample measure in the past. It was a state-sponsored, supported and if the eyewitnesses are to be believed, even state-directed attempt at ethnic cleansing. From the RSS Pracharak Chief Minister to the police constable in the street everyone appears to have `admirably' performed his role. While the RSS and VHP goons went around the city armed with lethal weapons, gas and oxygen cylinders and petrol, the state machinery stood aloof, permitting full play to the mayhem. The names of at least two Ministers are mentioned by many victims as instigating and directing the crowd. Both the Chief Minister and the Home Minister are accused of either involvement or abdication of duties, which ensured that the police did not take adequate steps to contain the violence. Hundreds of telephone calls were made to Ministers, to police officials and other Government functionaries from different localities for succour, only to be greeted with indifference and in many cases with scorn. Are we not citizens of this country, asked a young businessman in the Paldi area, a middle class locality in which quite a few apartments owned by Muslims were set on fire.
To the ordinary citizens, the state is a protector, which enables them to lead their lives without fear. Today fear is writ large on the face of the members of the minority community of Gujarat, for they are suddenly faced with the partisanship of the state, without any other source to look for support. This helplessness is the result of the state and its institutions turning communal in the wake of the BJP coming to power. But for the communal character of the state and its antipathy towards the minorities the carnage in Gujarat would not have taken place. Narendra Modi's Gujarat is a blueprint of the future, if the Indian state comes fully under the control of the Sangh Parivar.
The attempt to justify the mass murder of the members of a community by the Chief Minister, the Police Commissioner and a host of BJP-VHP leaders on the grounds of being a spontaneous reaction is appalling. Invoking Newton to lend credence to their deformed minds is an insult to the great scientist. What happened to the passengers of the Sabarmati Express is indeed a heinous crime, which deserves to be sternly dealt with, but the sequel to it is much more than a reaction. The instance was well planned and executed with meticulous precision. The methods adopted and the manner in which the violence was carried out leaves no doubt that long preparation had preceded the event. It is believed that a militia drawn from the VHP and the Bajrang Dal was trained for quite some time. The strength of the crowds that moved around the city was in thousands, well equipped to kill, plunder and destroy property. At any rate, they knew what to do, including how to cut open safes and selectively target establishments. The Godhra incident was the occasion and not the reason for the carnage that followed. The reason is the communalisation of the Hindus, which the Sangh Parivar has carried out during the last many years.
The generalised violence, which engulfed a major part of Ahmedabad, is bound to have multiple motives. Among them the economic interest and religious hatred appear to be dominant. Although religion is a common denomination in the violent incidents all over the city, the former has played a decisive role in the affluent areas. The city broadly falls into two economic and social zones. The old city on the eastern bank of Sabarmati River is relatively poor with more well marked religious community settlements. The western side, on the other hand, is the new business district and the residential area of the affluent class. The upwardly mobile Muslims who have considerable business interests in this area are an eyesore to the middle and business class supporters of the Hindutva brigade. A marketing agency was recently employed to prepare a census of Muslim business establishments, the purpose of which was not then realised by anyone. The gangs which went around the city and systematically destroyed Muslim business premises were well equipped with their names and addresses. Even their looting instincts which was otherwise quite evident did not induce them to target the nearby Hindu establishments. The very first sight of the destruction of property one comes across while driving from the airport to the city is the charred remains of Moti Minar, a hotel owned by a Muslim. More than 1,000 hotels, all of them vegetarian, located on the highways of Gujarat and owned by the Chelliya community of Muslims have been destroyed. Abid Shamshi, who was forced to leave a mixed locality in which he had lived for more than 30 years, fears large-scale migration of Muslims. He feels that the Muslims who have considerable business interests in the State can hardly afford to risk their investment. His fears are not misplaced. In the Naroda fruit market, 17 Muslim-owned shops have been gutted. Even a fruit shop jointly run by a Muslim and a Hindu, Ebrahim and Ramanlal, for the last 40 years was torched. Hardly a single Muslim business establishment has been spared. The Hindutva message to the minorities, as Prof. Shamshi says, is clear: there is no place for them in the nation, except by sufferance.
The colonies on the east bank witnessed the most brutal violence. These are colonies inhabited by poor Muslims, most of them daily wage workers, living in hutments clustered together in narrow lanes. They were raided by thousands of well-armed VHP-RSS activists, in some areas led by local leaders. One of the worst hit area is Naroda where the entire colony of more than 5,000 inhabitants was repeatedly attacked, subjecting women to unprintable atrocities. Ram Sajeevan Saroj who was a witness to the attack said about 15,000 people roamed the area from 9 a.m. till late in the night. The police was conspicuously absent leaving the locality completely under the control of the armed mob. One of the activists tried to alert the police and the Home Minister without any success. About 700 people were reportedly killed in Naroda, some of than pushed into a well. Several women were gangraped and the number of young girls missing is not yet certain. Similar incidents were repeated in almost all colonies. Consequently, those who were able to escape have fled for safety and there are now more than 50,000 people in different relief camps run by NGOs and other organisations. Incidentally, the Government has not so far come forward in an effective manner to provide succour to Another target of mob fury was the places of worship. About 30 mosques and dargahs have been razed to the ground. The events of the last few days indicate how brutalising communalism is. It destroys all noble sentiments in human beings. Gujarati society was ravaged by its worst manifestation. But even in such frightening situations what is essentially humane asserts itself. In different areas where the Hindutva goons had let loose a reign of terror, several Hindus have tried to protect and help the victims. But RSS pracharaks such as Mr. Modi, incapable of such response are pushing the nation to a dangerous brink. If India is not to be decimated by a civil war as in the case of Bosnia, the agony of Gujarat should not occur again, anywhere in the country. Does our political class have the foresight and energy to ensure that?