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
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
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
(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
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
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.