Is 2002 Gujarat, 1984’s Delhi?

The Naroda Patiya verdict isn’t about providing “closure”. It’s about whether people can get away with mass murder.

In March 2008, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had visited Vellore Central Jail and met Nalini Sriharan, a conspirator in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. It had been a private visit, a meeting that the media saw as Priyanka “forgiving” one of her father’s killers serving a life sentence. Priyanka had later clarified to the media her reason for meeting and wanting to “forgive” Nalini and then changing her mind: “For very personal reasons”, she had told CNN-IBN. “Initially when I went, I felt the need to forgive. When I reached there I realised I am no one to forgive. Because she has suffered just as I have. And I think people when they do things like this, they do it out of suffering. They don’t do it out of the intention of hurting other people. They do it out of their own suffering”.

Priyanka’s desire to forgive Nalini may have sprung from the former’s belief in the tenets of Buddhism. But she missed out on one key point as to why she was “no one to forgive” Nalini. The law has its own terms and conditions, and until India comes to practise Buddhist law, Nalini continues to serve out her sentence. The same reasoning applies for those grappling with the aftermath of the Gujarat riots a decade ago.

On Saturday, June 30th a special court hearing the 2002 post-Godhra Naroda Patiya massacre case is scheduled to deliver its verdict on the 62 accused. (On June 30th, it was announced that the judgment has been deferred to August 29, 2012.) The intervening ten years have made the killings of 98 people by a mob in the Naroda Patiya locality of Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, so much a part of India’s macabre urban legend that to repeat the case – one of nine 2002 Gujarat riot cases (including the equally news-tracked Gulbarg Society massacre in Ahmedabad) that was investigated by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by the Supreme Court – is to repeat a horrific cliché.

And as is the case before any such court proceedings, the question again veers towards the role of Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat when the massacres took place in 2002. And chief minister of Gujarat when judge Jyotsana Yagnik is scheduled to deliver her verdict on June 30, 2012. On Saturday, the question will specifically move to what such a verdict – of guilt, of lack of guilt, or of innocence – means for the victims and the perpetrators of the Naroda Patiya massacre today.

Much has been made of “the need to remember” the 2002 Gujarat riots. From the other side of the fence, much has been made of “the need to move on” since 2002. There have been Muslims, the main targets of the post-Godhra murderous sprees, who not only stayed back in Gujarat but have also thrived in it. They have, with reason, argued that instead of “dredging up the past” constantly, they be allowed to live “normal” lives, out of the reach of professional justice-seekers and bounty hunters who pop up on national television refusing to let sleeping dogs lie. If Delhi is not breaking into epileptic rashes at the thought of a Congress Sikh Prime Minister 28 years after the Congress orchestrated anti-Sikh massacres (and rationalised by the husband of the present Congress president), why fixate on Narendra Modi’s murderous crime of commission or omission now?

These voices are legitimate and bear much credence as it is their owners – and not the “national” upholders of communal justice – who continue to live in Gujarat, in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in self-described peace. But then there are the actual victims of the riots themselves, many of whom seek vengeance in the form of justice for the wrongs done to them. Some may point to the state of fear they live in – fearful of a reprisal, of being threatened by people who stand to be buried by justice if the law nails them for a decade-old crime. But for them, “not forgetting” is non-negotiable, even if it is because they have very little left to lose and at least something to gain. On the face of it, “moving on” seems a more proactive and practical way of dealing with the bloody anomaly that followed the fiery anomaly of the Godhra murders in 2008. It avoids scratching sores at a time when Gujarat is seen as a model state of development, governance and law and order even for its minority citizens, especially at a time when Modi, prior to the assembly elections in the state later this year, has told his party-men to actively woo Muslim voters to counter any red carpet leading to any Congress soup kitchen.

And yet, the whole business of “moving on” or “remembering” is a besides-the-point sideshow. Priyanka Vadra may have come to terms with one of her father’s killers and stopped wishing her any ill-will; but Nalini is still in prison. Mehmet Agca was “forgiven” by Pope John Paul II after the Turkish assassin tried to kill the pontiff in 1981. But he spent 19 years in an Italian prison, 17 years after the pope had visited him in prison “forgiving” him. (Upon release from prison in Italy, Agca was imprisoned again in a Turkish jail till his release in 2010 for another earlier crime.)

If someone wishes to “forgive” Mayaben Kodnani, the local BJP MLA from Naroda Patiya who is accused of leading murderous mobs on February 28, 2002 and was made Minister of State (Women and Child Development) in 2007 by Modi, that’s up to the “forgiver”. If someone else wishes to “forgive” Kodnani’s personal assistant Kirpal Singh, accused of distributing lethal weapons to the mob, that is also a private matter. There can be some who wish to “move on” by not dredging up the matter of how former Bajrang Dal leader, Babu Bajrangi boasted how he ripped out a nine-month foetus from a pregnant Kaiser Bano’s stomach. But such “forgiveness” – within the grasp of many, beyond the grasp of many too – is a separate activity from proving the guilt or otherwise of those accused and sentencing them, if found guilty, according to the law of the land. “Moving on” from 2002 Gujarat has already happened, as has “moving on” from 1983 Nellie in Assam (the official report of the massacre reportedly implicating both the state Congress and Asom Gana Parishad still remains “classified”) and from 1984 Delhi. And thank the lord for that. “Forgiveness” too has been given in the form of electoral support – whether out of genuine support towards a BJP government by Gujarat’s Muslims or to Congress governments by Assam’s Muslims and Delhi’s Sikhs – or by a “hafta” (protection) rationale and by other means that refrain from making a grisly past constantly come in the way of the present.

But the verdict on the Naroda Patiya case has nothing to do with either “forgiving” or “moving on”. It simply has to do with establishing whether people can get away with – and indeed be rewarded for committing – mass murder. The 2002 Gujarat riots is always pitted against the 1984 Delhi riots as a political tu-tu mein-mein, the classic hyphenation that is brought up each time the Congress and the BJP want to jump on to a higher moral hobby horse when faced with a “law and order-related crisis”.

The truth is more banal and far less circuitous: the 1984 Delhi riots and its continuing “non-aftermath” provided the model for the 2002 Gujarat riots. The Naroda Patiya verdict will enable us to know whether 2002 Gujarat can become the model for a future politically-fuelled massacre-spree and provide those precious tips on how to get away with it.


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  • Author has reasons to justify that Muslims living in Gujarat are afraid. Unfortunately, we can’t expect any better who was in any capacity associated with nasty Hindustan Times.
    As usual, he remained insensitive to the death of 57 kar sevaks who were burnt alive for no fault but enchanting ” Jai Shree Ram”. The train name Sabarmati Express is same and even running today, the railway track is same, the S-6 sleeper coach is same, the Godhara Station is same but had the author ever tried to address that kith and kins, family and friends of those 57 Kar Sevaks are also afraid of their lives in boarding the same train, or it remind them the worst ever horrendous crime of humanity whenever they pass by Godhara.
    The author has successfully portrayed himself and perhaps expects others to remain insensitive of the tragic demise of those INNOCENT 57 kar sevaks.
    To use his writing as disclaimer of being unbiased he did mention about 1984 Sikh riots but wrapped it with the loyalty towards 10, Janpath, New Delhi. Out of 60 odd lines, he did mention about Sikh riots but limited his emotions to less than a line.
    Despite SIT closure report and Mr R K Raghvan’s ( ex-CBI Director and person known for his integrity) water-tight investigations, Modi remains murderous another fad of media persons who graduated in perverted interpretation of word SECULARISM.
    Muslims are living in fear could be another buzz word but by and large it is perceived as nonchalance on the part of the author.
    Author doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to know that in what condition the families of 57 kar sevaks are living. Had they gained confidence, had the author ever felt that his writings had empowered them, shouldn’t he extend his talent to know their plight or if he knows had he shared it to larger corss-section of the society.

  • At the end as usual “the author can be reached @abcd etc. In fact we don’t have to reach the author as it is pretty well settled practice in India, no one will respond to our e mails.

    Just one word-Verdict after verdict from Gujarath convicting the killers really sending right signals, and unfolding the blind on the statue of Justice. Its for sure! Now let’s see how one of the Delhi riot accused is enjoying a Cabinet berth under the secular Congress Rule? it’s easy guess whom m I talking about? Gujarath Justice is great for the reason there is little sycophancy around Modi, than around 10 Janpath!

  • Reshmi

    1984’S ‘non aftermath’ dismissed in one sentence, Indy? Because you were too young to see it in person (unlike me) and because it was before the era of round the clock TV coverage?
    And so much about Priyanka’s Buddhist forgiveness… What about all the other men who died beside Rajiv Gandhi due to Nalini’s ‘own suffering’? Do the feelings of their famililes matter? Has anyone cared to find out?

  • Sundaresan

    Mr. Hazra, what are you even trying to say? That unless a guilty verdict against Mr. Modi comes, we cannot ask for a guilty verdict against the congress. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi is on record condoning the riots. Gujarat 2002 only proved that even a CM can’t prevent a mob which is on “kolaveri” mode. do u even know the police to people ratio? u think a bunch of bullets can actually dissuade a mob. which makes me wonder? have any of u ever seen a mob? it is scary man. it is something faced with which a police officer realises how useless a gun or tear gas is. dont write just because u have a keyboard and a congress freindly employer. As for news laundry, mark this column as that which puts a quesion mark over its attempt to be different.

    • Indian

      It wasn’t the first time a riot took place in Gujarat, my friend. Police Officials (from Gujarat) have stated on record that it doesn’t take more than 2 hours to disperse the mob in a riot situation if the police works in accordance with their protocol and deploys their subordinates. Here, in 2002 the case was different. And we all know why!
      Stop showing us that you have seen a mob. Even I have and have also seen police handling it tactfully. Police is trained for it. They don’t go on a vacation. It’s called training. And more of a mob reaction is handled not with weapons. We use something called “brains” which we humans (if not all) have.
      To Indrajit – You show why you are a good writer. These fellows confuse it with reporting. Ignore.

      • Instead of preaching here, show some traces of that brain and give lectures ‘on how to tackle mob’ in some Police Reforms seminars. That may be useful on the streets of Srinagar also where the crowds are shouting Azzadi … Azzadi and pelting stones targeting to law and order enforcing agency and creating anarchy and causing loss of state revenue. As you said, the police without brain couldn’t handle it and therefore Union Home Minister has to chip in and all party delegation went to meet the separatist leaders of Hurriyat Conference and Union Govt has to announce interlocutors who had engaged the disgruntled mob and brainless police couldn’t rein them.

        • Indian

          I see how conveniently you have chosen to shift from Gujarat to Kashmir. That has always been a problem. Pick up things of your convenience and debate. Very well indeed. For this, I see how you have no retort for Gujarat. I have made my point.

          • Well .. I was not sure that I am replying to someone who is so finicky about latitude and longitude when it comes to giving free hand to Police. I admire that ( don’t take it seriously, it is sarcastic). Kashmir is part of India and I just draw the parallel that if it is so easy to handle the mob, union Home Minister didn’t need to send All Party delegation and appoint 3 interlocutors, if police can wind it up in 2 hours because they are trained for that. Azad Maidan and Raza academy is another example.

          • Wadood Murshedkar

            the problem with this moron Kris varanasi is that he is basically in support of right wing fascism in India. He is covering his rhetoric behind the garb of police not being able to control mobs in kashmir. No one told him it seems that the people in Kashmir are fighting against police and military atrocities, abductions, murders, custodial deaths hence they don’t care about cops firing at them. If he ever compared the numbers missing or shot by the uniformed forces, it would make him wonder why the same doesn’t happen elsewhere when majority mobs are attacking. Such people are the problem why one crime is compared to the other rather than the roots of one crime being traced to another.

    • saba

      mr. sundaresan if the mob is so scary and bullets so useless, why is it always the opposite in J&K. people get killed due to those harmless bullets. if u had tried to stop something and werent succeeded, people will say that u are a failure. they will not make u a hero for not doing so. and why are people stll waiting for justice.

  • what the hell are you trying to say here? Priyanka, NaMo, Buddhism, 2002, 1984. Total rhetoric. One more thing, whatever happens, NaMo was, is and always will be victorious.

  • Neer

    Near gutter level journalism! That said, I expected nothing less from a HT columnist. Ain’t working for the HT synonymous with working with the Gandhis?
    Fact is, 2002 was a riot, where many Hindus lost their lives as well. I condemn attacks on both Hindus & Muslims. 84 was NOT – repeat, NOT – a riot. THAT, my friend was a 1939-Germany style genocide orchestrated against the Sikhs bityy Rajiv Gandhi. Equating 2002 with 1939? Does this douche even realise how anti-semetic he is being? I’m a cross between a Hindu and a Jew. This is plain insensitivity & absolute mockery of the Holocaust.
    Shame. FUCKING shame!!!!!!

  • shaktifabian

    it is on record that the worst communal riots have taken place in gujrat prior to 2002 this was commented upon by a highly respected retd police commissioner who by the way was neither a muslim nor an hindu but a parsee it is said the riots in 1969 during congress c m hitendra desai,s time went non stop for one complete year and the impotent guj govt of the day had to call a pak citizen but a noble man khan abdul ghaffar khan to appeal to the people mainly the minority community after soon after in the seventies also there was sporiadic riots which was instigated by chief minister chiman chors favourite henchman a low bred bottleger from the minority community it is only after 2002 there has being no riots under modi the sensible people of gujrat have better things to do

  • shaktifabian

    i have noticed normally this guy doesnt get much of readers response for his crappy superfical coloumns unlike the talented and highly educated priya kale and some others so he has deliberately written a piece which will provoke and excite people to respond