Let me begin with paying that obligatory lip service lest I be seen as a “Modi hater”. I am not, but seeing as how I rarely hate at all, I don’t know that that is a measure of Modi. Outright, I accept that Gujarat was a disturbed state for a long time. I also accept that there have been no riots since then. I also accept rioters outnumbered police. I can totally understand that controlling riots is not like flipping a switch and failure and delays are all a matter of whether the cops are able to subdue the riots fast enough. I also understand that cops are not exactly Mahatmas and are perfectly capable of inhuman acts on their own initiative using existing chaos as cover.
I don’t know if Modi actually provoked the riots or supported rioters by delaying order. If he did, I wouldn’t be surprised considering the tone of his speeches during those days. There was anger, there was extensive fear mongering about minorities. But he cannot be said to be the lone star on this. There is an abundance of people who do such things. Today itself, a crackpot Muslim fundamentalist from the UK has called for the Muslims in India to rise up against the government and impose the Sharia on India. The response from the Muslims has largely been along the lines of *yawn*. I think to save his pride, the government of India blocked his website in the nick of the moment before he crashed spectacularly, because the website inspired more jokes than anything else.
What is my point?
My point is that you can’t just randomly say a few things and think that people will start killing each other. Not even outrageous things. You just get laughed at. Modi made fiery speeches, yes. But the fact of the matter is that many of us heard those speeches, called him a crackpot and moved on. This was 2002 – Modi had just become the CM of Gujarat a few months back, and had nothing particular to his name as CM and a reputation as a hot head from before becoming CM. For someone living in Mumbai and not interested in politics, he was just another angry speech maker. We have Balasaheb who wasn’t that distant a memory in those times. You listen, you move on. You most certainly don’t go shopping for sword. And frankly, I think the hot heads know that too, while they try so hard to “wake” people up. For most of the time, these influences on thought are in order to legitimize the radicals and allow them social acceptance (which is a hideous thing too). At the end of the day, those who had the inclination to murder were able to murder.
What do I believe? I am less certain that Modi was culpable. Not because I like the man, which I don’t , but I genuinely don’t believe that what happened was within the capacity of any one person to prevent. Also, my understanding of Modi is that of someone with an extremely rigidly defined idea of responsibility, which wouldn’t include something like that – even if he hated Muslims. His brand of hate is more condescending, throwing scraps but controlling opportunities kind – what we see even now with the compensations, for example. In the sense of ruling over them and forcing them to toe the line. Gujarat seems to be the only state I can see where the supporters of the ruling party actually seem to expect citizens to be grateful for governance, and see them as ungrateful and biased if they aren’t appropriately appreciative. This is unique even for the BJP. I don’t imagine him being okay with being in the “wrong” and damaging own image to “stoop to the level” of those he has contempt for. Doesn’t fit.
My hunch is that he was not able to control the angry Hindutva crowd and his ego got in the way of taking a stand that would be visibly disowning. I also think that his reputation as a hot head and anti-Muslim speaker allowed those under him a lot of sanction whether explicit or not – I don’t think it was explicit. It is also possible that there were assumptions made in his name even in conveying orders, considering what people knew of him. I don’t think the man himself asked for any violence to be excused. In my view, he wouldn’t want a violent conquering, but a social one – as in place in hierarchy, not a risking of reputation to become equal with the ones hated. That was more the Shiv Sena style – visible victories and control through physical threat – BJP is more subtle. A secular image is a core interest, as is the need to be seen as impeccably constitutional.
The Hindutva organizations aren’t exactly a monolith, and there are plenty of factions and Modi was already controversial. Many within the BJP didn’t and still don’t like him. There had been questions about his rise to power. I don’t know how much power he had to go against a visibly Hindu tide without being out-powered in support. This is why I don’t know how culpable Modi was for the riots. India, and indeed Gujarat specifically too has a history of riots. Whether it was the dog that wagged the tail, or the tail that wagged the dog, the end result was the same – deadly riots.
I think we need to disengage from the obsession with Modi, because whether guilty or free, there are many other sins getting smokescreened. For example, the hindrance to investigations. The obsession is to trace it back to Modi. It may indeed be true, but what is most definitely true is that there were people who hindered investigations directly – with or without his order/sanction. To me, logically, it seems to make sense to nail these people and follow what shakes out of the tree when it gets rattled. To pursue the actual instances of state support for the rioters and file cases against them individually. My logic is that if it is Modi who indeed allowed these things, with enough of the guys on scene nailed, you’ll get more concrete evidence to nail him directly rather than this running around trees and opinion wars.
If it isn’t Modi who sanctioned, but someone else who may have acted as a communicator, but instead directed things to taste, then those names will come up. It is completely astonishing that there aren’t more arrests considering the size of mobs. Modi doesn’t make or prevent individual arrests – what is happening in the police force itself? Why were some policemen seen to be participating in riots? Who were they, and have they been punished? It is in the interests of all to not begin with a conclusion, but instead work empirically and in ways that will help courts to sentence culprits.
Also, those who speak in defense of Modi need to understand that it were supporters of Modi too going around killing people. Modi is a Hindutva leader. The rioters were also among people who voted him into power. These people have not exactly been disowned. While the government has not been able to arrest too many rioters, how many of Modi supporters have given up criminals among them to help their dear Chief Minister enforce the peace everyone now claims he intended? Or were they aliens who rioted in Gujarat and no one knew who they were? How many of Modi’s supporters have actually participated in riots and escaped being caught? To say “we regret” is easy. To claim golden intentions is still easier. What are the actions that have demonstrated these intentions that they should be believed just because they were claimed?
Aren’t many of those convinced of Modi’s guilt the same people who want to repeal Afzal Guru’s sentence for lack of evidence? It is a noble ideal – placating the country is no reason to hang anyone, but it should be applied uniformly, no? Placating people shouldn’t require the metaphorical hanging of Modi either. There needs to be more respect for law and order and evidence based process. And also a willingness to not lynch people out of belief. As for long overdue justice and Modi being blamed for it…. it is another reason to attack him. Justice in India is SLOW most of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. It isn’t a Modi special. Our conviction rate for crimes in general is about 10%. Most of them had nothing to do with Modi. We are fucked up as a country. This needs to change? Yes.
Right now, the “case” on Modi in media courts is running exactly the way we are trying to get cops to NOT run – by first having a suspect, then forcing enough confessions (true or false) to nail him – and family of the accused making claims of good character and saying “he can’t have done such a thing” – neither is necessarily true. Of course, such a belief based process forces anyone it touches to make illogical choices out of further belief, since there isn’t evidence for anyone to have an informed decision. Our National Obsession – stupidification. Because stupid believers are power without accountability.
Such thought leaders do more harm than good by encouraging mob justice. The result is damage to the country, because if the courts do indeed declare Modi innocent, they will have created a whole mob of people who will still want him hanged. The same goes for Modi supporters. If the courts do declare Modi guilty, they will have created a whole mob of people who still want him declared innocent. Then we will have “justice” stalled for more years for security fears in country. Mobs are rarely good for anyone except those who use them to get results.