It is over a month since the carnage in Gujarat began, and still the violence continues. Yet, the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has returned to Gandhinagar, comfortable in the knowledge that a deeply partisan Government which abrogates its responsibility to the people it is supposed to govern, can survive with the blessings of the Centre. Nothing less would have permitted Mr. Modi to brazen it out in the capital last week. For, although the Prime Minister slapped him on the wrist for keeping things on the boil, Mr. Modi does not expect to pay with his job for his complete failure to govern.
With this "approval" in his pocket, and the belief that the majority of Gujarat's Hindus support him, Mr. Modi, and the State's BJP Government are unlikely to feel compelled to act with any urgency to try and restore a semblance of `normality' to the State. In fact, despite the public claim that he had the violence under control in "72 hours", Mr. Modi is said to have told senior officials in New Delhi that he needed one more month to call a halt to the violence. The sense of insecurity that pervades the State will take a great deal to undo. There is, however, nothing in Mr. Modi's demeanour to suggest that he is concerned with returning a sense of security to the people battered by the violence. He has shown himself to be entirely unwilling to change even the language of justification ("har kriya ki pratikriya hoti hai, for every action there is a reaction") that underlies his, and his Government's, every utterance on the violence and death of the last one month.
Mr. Modi, his Cabinet colleagues and their minions in the Secretariat and the police force refuse to talk about the systematic killing of Muslims in Gujarat except as "violence/riots which followed Godhra". Most FIRs filed by the police in the last few weeks and Government orders issued in relation to the violence invariably begin with a preamble about the violence which "followed the burning of the Sabarmati Express in which 58 people including women and children were killed". Apart from endlessly repeating what it calls the "causal" connection between Godhra and the annihilation of Muslims, the Government has also chosen to emphasise the State's "communal history" by way of explaining itself. The Gujarat Government refuses to acknowledge what even civil servants and police officers in the State, to say nothing of victims, social activists, and the press, have found: that this was no ordinary `riot', but a programmed attack on the people of one faith. Apart from this, the slowness of its response in providing any assistance to the people in the makeshift relief camps has underlined the Government's wilful abandonment of its constitutional duty to protect the rights of its people. It has failed to defend their right to life — the most basic of rights — and for the survivors it has been reluctant to provide them the wherewithal to exercise their rights as citizens of this country.
The Government has so far shown little willingness to help people return to homes that may still be intact, or return to work in a guaranteed safe environment. Those who have done so voluntarily have been forced back to the camps by threats and attacks. The Government has also produced no reasonable plan or time frame for rehabilitating those whose homes and sources of livelihood have been destroyed.
Those who expect justice — for the deaths, the damage, the destruction of whole communities — will clearly have to look beyond the State's BJP Government. For, its "reaction" theory precludes admitting the role of organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal (enough of whose members have proudly proclaimed their part in the violence).
The Government claims that the police have made hundreds of arrests of people involved in substantive criminal acts. But, so far, it has failed to give an account of these arrests, the charges, if any, against those still in custody and of the investigations which it says are under way. The police in Ahmedabad have also voluntarily filed many `omnibus' FIRs, against groups of people, naming no names. These FIRs pre-empt the chance of a victim seeking to file an FIR naming either police officers or individuals identified in the mob. An omnibus or group FIR is not worth the paper it is written on, since it is nearly impossible to successfully prosecute a case in which the perpetrator(s) is not identified.
The numbers of those "rescued" is an even greater obfuscation mocking the trauma of the victims. The Government claims, to cite just one example, that the police "rescued" a few thousand people from Naroda Patia in Ahmedabad. Survivors say the police fired at them to force them into the path of the mob. Nearly 100 people, including children, died gruesome deaths, women and girls were raped, a whole neighbourhood was burnt down. Those who survived were transported to relief camps. This is what the Government describes as "rescue".
The Constitution guarantees all Indian citizens the right to protection of life and personal liberty (Article 21), the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion (Article 15) and the equality of all persons before the law (Article 14).
But, Mr. Modi, and the BJP Government he leads, are determinedly showing the world that these constitutional provisions do not apply to Indians who are Muslim, if they do not "enjoy the goodwill" of the Hindutvawadis.