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 - Indian Express: Monday, 6th May, 2002


For over 17 hours on April 30, I stayed glued to my seat in the Visitors' Gallery of the Lok Sabha because unlike earlier debates, including the recent one on POTA, this time it was decided not to telecast the debate on Gujarat as it was 'not commercially viable'. Sceptics say the government was worried about th embarrassment the debate would cause them.

The Opposition said what it was supposed to say. Most of the allies made the right noises but they remained supportive of the government. Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan was one exception who walked out of the NDA and voted against the government. But the TDP confined its protest to walking out of the Lok Sabha at the time of voting.

The government chose its opening speaker well for Ms. Uma Bharati is the perfect representative of the BJP's intellectual refinement. What happened in Gujarat was a great national tragedy which should not be politicised, said Ms. Uma Bharti in one breath but proceeded to launch a blistering attack on the Opposition, targeting Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav in particular. This was expected of her. What was sad, however, was the fact that despite being a woman she showed no remorse or anguish at the large-scale sexual violence against women across Gujarat. For her such incidents simply did not happen because Mr. Narendra Modi and his officials had told her so.

No body, she protested, could name the woman who was raped before her stomach was ripped apart, the foetus pulled out and flung into the fire, and she herself mutilated and killed. (For her information, according to eyewitness Amina of Husain Nagar, the scene of this gruesome crime was Naroda Patiya and the victim's name was Kausar Bano). Ms. Bharti would concede no more than two incidents of sexual violence because the police had lodged only two FIRs. She conveniently ignored the findings of the National Human Rights Commission, the National Minorities Commission, the National Commission for Women and several independent fact-finding teams that the police had been refusing in registering FIRs. So much for the sanyasin's compassion for women. But the real pearls of wisdom came from her senior ministerial colleague, Mr. George Fernandes.

The defence minister declared that the gang-rape, mutilation and burning of women of the minority community was 'nothing new' but was in fact something that had gone on for the last 54 years in this country. What greater consolation could he offer to the traumatised women victims of Gujarat than to tell them that they are not alone but a part of a 54-year-old tradition.

Mr. Fernandes then proceeded to claim that minorities had been consistently been killed in riots under Congress rule. (Claps from the BJP benches!). He argued that Muslims had been deliberately kept backward by the Congress. (Claps from the BJP benches!) He even cited some circular issued by the Congress government in 1971, directing that no Muslim should be given any sensitive posting. (Shame! Shame! From the BJP benches).

I was aghast. The BJP, I thought, had all these years accused the Congress of 'Muslim appeasement.' And here were members of the same party cheering lustily as Mr Fernandes pronounced the Congress guilty of Muslim-baiting, without any sense of self-contradiction. But then no body blames the BJP for any pursuit of truth.

Mr. Fernandes then proceeded to narrate with great pride how paramilitary forces and the army had successfully resisted three attempts to demolish a dargah in Ahmedabad. But he did not tell the Lok Sabha who the assailants were and why they were not apprehended. Perhaps Mr Fernandes does not subscribe to the doctrine of 'hot pursuit'. Why violence continued despite the police, paramilitary forces and the army was a mystery that was solved for us by his ministerial colleague from Gujarat, Mr. Hiren Pathak.

(If my memory serves me right, he is the same gentleman who along with a BJP minister from Gujarat, is implicated in instigating the murder of a policeman during the 1985 riots. I wonder what is happening to that case).

Boasting that he knew the social topography of Ahmedabad better than anyone else, Mr. Pathak pinpointed five areas of the city -- Kalupur, Dariyapur, Juhapura, Jamalpur and Gomtipur -- as the five locales of continuing violence after the first 72 hours. Mr. Pathak informed the house about the demography of these areas: Kalupur (80 % Muslims), Juhapura (90 %) and Jamalpur (100%). Identifying the people of these places as the root of the problem, he simply added: "It is the name of these five places that you keep hearing on TV again and again."

I remember the mention of Panipat in history books again and again in my school years. In the light of Mr. Pathak's revelations, I now wonder whether the people of Panipat were a particularly quarrelsome type. Or is it that they were attacked again and again and that is why the name Panipat figures again and again in history books? According to Mr. Pathak, after the first 72 hours there has been peace in Ahmedabad except for these five 'problem areas'. He is right. There is peace in places like Naroda Patiya and Gulbarga society. Would he suggest a similar peace plan for the 'problem areas'?

Expert though he is on the geography of Ahmedabad, I doubt if he even has a clue on the location of the various relief camps where tens of thousands of Muslims are today forced to live in sub-human conditions. But to be fair to Mr. Pathak he was quite appreciative of the Prime Minister's visit to the Shah Alam relief camp some weeks ago. His words were quite instructive: "It is our tradition to dress in white while visiting the relatives of the dead and irrespective of the character of the deceased we always say that whatever happened should not have happened". That, according to Mr Pathak, is what the Prime Minister's visit was all about.

Mr. Advani who spoke just before the Prime Minister, was pain and anguish personified. He believed that what had happened in Gujarat was terrible, a blot on the nation, an undoing of four years of good governance by the BJP. But he warned the Opposition that to suggest that Godhra or no Godhra, Gujarat was waiting to happen would be providing ammunition to 'our enemies'. (I still fail to appreciate the logic behind the Home Minister's warning. Besides, I would also like to ask the Home Minister whether those who had for months been organising weapons' training camps and distributing trishuls and swords among people knew in advance that Godhra was going to happen.

Mr Advani said not a single word about who was responsible for all the shameful deeds and what he, the Home Minister of India charged with the maintenance of law and order, intends to do with mass killers, rapists, looters and arsonists. He may be clueless as to who the guilty are but he knows for sure who is not guilty. For him, therefore, the question of a state-sponsored genocide led by Mr. Modi simply does not arise.

The Prime Minister was as pained and anguished as Mr. Advani was. And like Mr Advani, he too had nothing to say about the identity of those responsible for the carnage. Nevertheless, he was deeply upset with the gang rapes, mutilation and burning to death of women but was quick to point out this did not happen 'to the extent it was being made out to be'. The masterstroke in his speech was when very hesitantly and reluctantly he quoted some newspaper that had written that Muslims deserve such treatment for after all they have taught us to behave like this. Having shared this logic with the House, Mr Vajpayee commented in a most righteous tone that such things should never be written or spoken.

In any case, Mr Vajpayee was very unhappy with the media for identifying the community of the victims in Gujarat. He would have preferred them to have remained nameless and faceless. Such revelations must obviously be inconvenient and embarrassing for his government.

Mr Vajpayee had started his speech bemoaning the fact that he was a much misunderstood man. Here, I must admit, he was totally right. In recent years, a lot many people had misunderstood him. I am one of them and for this I plead guilty. He said that because of his one speech at Goa, people have forgotten his 50 years of public life. Here I beg to differ. On the contrary, his Goa speech has reminded us of his 50 years of public life that is littered with anti-minority statements, something we were trying hard to forget. We thought people grow with time, their visions change, they become wiser, they rise above prejudices. Mr. Vajpayee proved us wrong.

Thus spoke the tallest leaders of the BJP about the worst communal carnage in independent India's history.

It is almost four in the morning as I came out of the Parliament building, sad and depressed. After hearing these speeches I am trying to understand what makes people so unfeeling, so ruthless, so callous, so cynical, so devoid of any sense of justice, fairness and compassion. As I am moving away its still dark all around. But some inner voice tells me this darkness is not forever; sooner or later the sun will rise. It always does.

-- Javed Akhtar

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